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Use SMART Goals when Setting Goals and Objectives for Employees

Wrongful Termination

Managers can be fuzzy when laying out expectations for their employees. Here are a few examples of things we say to employees:

  • Be a self-starter (what exactly does that look like? Work on anything? Everything? Work fast? Look busy?).
  • Be reliable (what does that mean? Have good attendance [and what constitutes good?]. Work 18 hour days? Stay until all the work is done?).
  • Provide great customer service on all calls (what does great sound like?).

Turning Fuzzy Goals Into SMART Goals

In my 20+ years in management, I’ve seen this countless times and even though I know better, I’m guilty of fuzzy goals too. Here’s the rub: When we don’t take the time to be very clear about the goals we set for our people, how are they supposed to do A+ work?

It’s been my experience that lack of SMART goals leads to disengaged and underperforming employees. We forget to do goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic (sometimes relevant is substituted), and time bound.

Examples of Fuzzy Goals in Action versus SMART Goals

See if you’ve ever experienced one of these:

  1. You think you did a great job this year, but at review time, on a scale of 1-5, you’re rated a 3.
  2. Your spouse asks you to take his shirts to the cleaners, and then is upset because you missed some.
  3. The boss gives you a huge project Monday and wants it at day’s end. You worked 18 hours on Monday to get it done, but you just can’t stay awake.
  4. Your teen completes a homework assignment and turns it in on Tuesday afternoon, only to find out it was due Tuesday morning. He gets dinged because of it.
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All these examples are dumb goals – let’s break it down:

  1. The goals for performance weren’t made specific before the employee performed them – “a 3 is defined as… a 5 is defined as…” .
  2. The goal wasn’t measureable (or specific) – ” I need you to take 4 shirts to the cleaners for me…”.
  3. The goal isn’t attainable or realistic. – “This is a huge project. I’d like you to spend 8 hours every day on it, complete it in 4 days, and turn it in at COB on Thursday.”
  4. The goal for completion wasn’t time bound – “Homework is due in Tuesday morning at 9:00 a.m.”.

Avoiding Fuzzy Goals Might Save the Employee (and Save You Legal Battles)

If the employee isn’t performing as you’d like, be sure they had SMART goals. If you haven’t laid that strong foundation, you may end up with a claim on your hands if they are terminated, especially if the employee is in a protected class. You also want to avoid wrongful termination .

Remember: If your terminated employee complains “I didn’t know”…or, “no one told me”, odds of some form of action are higher.

Be sure that all employees’ have a clear understanding of expectations. Use SMART goals and you’ll increase employees’ performance and decrease the odds of a performance based termination.