Management by objective, first introduced in the 1950s, has become ubiquitous in U.S. corporations. An overwhelming majority of U.S. businesses — 95% — manage by setting individual goals that are aligned broadly with strategies and objectives. The theory is, once these individual goals are met, the larger strategy will be as well.
Goals are frequently set according to a well-known acronym: SMART. This means they are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.
Do Goals Work?
As a recent MIT Sloan Management Review noted, however, it isn’t clear that goal achievement by employee and department actually does work to further corporate strategy. First, in today’s fast-paced environment, strategy and goals can change, so agility should be built in. Most goal-setting structures in corporations are yearly, or twice yearly at the absolute most.
In addition, since employees often set their own goals, employees can set goals low enough that they can be reached. The propensity to do this might be great if, for example, a salesforce is told it will be compensated with bonuses upon goal achievement. Setting goals they know they are likely to meet is a process known as “sandbagging.”
Finally, goals, which are the desired key results, are generally arrived at between supervisors and employees. Ideally, the goals will not be kept private. Goals define the framework that the strategies are based on. Key decisions and activities will be guided by the framework or goals.
It’s important to define expected milestones and to also decide which metrics will help measure the performance. Organizations need to have a strategy in place that will help determine whether the goals have been met, and even more importantly, how they were met.
Not all goals may meet a given strategy.
The Benefits of FAST Goals
According to the authors, an effective goal system should incorporate FAST goals. These are goals that embed frequent discussions, ambitious scope, specific metrics and milestones, and should be transparent within the organization.
Many companies, including such technology news leaders as Google and Intel, use FAST goals. But it’s not only a tech sector phenomenon; so do companies like Anheuser-Busch.
What’s more important than sector is that FAST goals utilize certain workable elements of SMART goals (the metrics, the match between metrics and realistic time frames) while correcting some of their drawbacks.
Take frequent discussions. While long-term corporate strategy is sometimes a slow-moving ship, the individual priorities and steps taken to meet them can, in fact, change dramatically over the short term. Should a given employee prioritize one specific step over another 3 months after the priorities were first determined? Under a SMART system, the need for change may go unaddressed for a year. Under a FAST system, the needed adjustment is, well, faster.
Setting an ambitious scope corrects the ability of employees to sandbag goals. It ensures that employees are achieving stretch goals.
And transparency? This is a Silicon Valley favorite. Andy Grove, Intel’s legendary leader, made employees not only set individual goals toward meeting objectives but made them post the most important on the outward-facing side of their cubes.
The result? Everyone knew what everyone else’s goal was. There is more shared information to facilitate teamwork. Peer pressure is harnessed as a hopefully productive force. And people can seek out others in analogous situations for advice.
There is, of course, some overlap between SMART and FAST. To take a quiz on how FAST your goals are, click here.