Here’s some reassurance for anyone who has recently felt the energy draining from the room at the end of an appraisal or review meeting.
Whichever chair you’re sitting in, and however well the rest of the meeting has gone, the final furlong can often feel distinctly uncomfortable.
A number of reasons might apply.
Your espresso arrived late; you’re awaiting the caffeine rush.
The next meeting is waiting to start, its participants voicing their growing frustration from the corridor.
It’s been a meeting of obligation rather than a meeting of minds, and it’s starting to show.
Or, perhaps an illuminating and insightful conversation started to flounder once shared aspiration and ambition, liberated at last from a never-ending to-do list, ran headlong in to the unforgiving edifice of the SMART objective.
Objectives that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound seem to underpin the vast majority of current HR systems.
Their application seems to be universal; their virtues presented as a given.
Which is perhaps surprising because research suggests that the SMART structure is the most effective and motivating type of goal – for fewer than half of us.
Research by Richard Boyatzis and cited here by Alison Hardingham suggests that 40 per cent of us are ‘objective-oriented planners’ and well disposed towards the detailed nature of SMART goals.
But the remaining 60 per cent of people fall in to three different mindsets, which respond better to a more directional, less specific approach.
How best might a business reflect and respond to this insight?
Four routes present themselves.
The business might carry on regardless. If results are good and commercial plans are being met, the business might not wish to concern itself with realising the full potential of its employees. It should not be surprised, however, if its employees decide not to concern themselves with realising the full potential of the business.
The business might decide to hire only those ‘objective-oriented planners’ whose motivation is maximised within a SMART framework, accepting the additional recruitment hurdle as a price worth paying.
Alternatively, the business might supplement the SMART framework with additional formats. In Coaching For Performance Sir John Whitmore suggests that SMART goals might also be checked to ensure that they are PURE (Positively-stated, Understood, Relevant and Ethical) and CLEAR (Challenging, Legal, Environmentally sound, Appropriate and Recorded).
The fourth route would be to put acronyms to one side. To have a structured conversation that assumes that there has been an open and on-going dialogue about performance issues; that the appraisal is not staged around a litany of mistakes and misgivings; and that it is intended to promote constructively and collaboratively professional and personal development.
It is a conversation of three simple parts: purpose, contribution and help.
The first part is perhaps the most challenging because it requires the executive representing the company to be very clear about its organisational purpose, goals and strategies for the forthcoming year.
The employee would then outline how they can best contribute to that cause. Which might mean carrying on with some of the things they are already doing and perhaps deploying skills and passions previously excluded from their role.
The final stage indentifies the help the employee needs from the company to realise their contribution. This might include anything from skills training and behavioural development to a boss who listens or a team structure that better calibrates accountability and responsibility.
The subsequent stage would be for the business to align the roles and potential contribution of all employees, allocating not only development budgets but also compensation and incentive packages accordingly.
No easy task.
But one based upon maximising the contribution of all employees and enriching their experience, rather than shaping the future of the business around a system that might leave the majority feeling a little disenfranchised even as they sign-off and submit their SMART appraisal forms.