SMART Goals Work, You’re Just Doing Them Wrong

Reading Time: 5 minutes

The term “Two-Faced” is used to describe someone with two contrasting aspects. If you behave differently around one group of friends than you would another, you might be labeled as two-faced.

These days that term is viewed as an insult, but did you know that that wasn’t always the case? There was a time when two-faced was actually “Janus-Faced.” Janus, the god of doorways and gateways from ancient Roman times, can be seen as a man with one face looking forward, and one face looking backward. A symbol of looking to the future, and into the past.

Early Romans revered Janus so much that once per year, they would use sacrifices to thank the God for the year they had and made promises for the year the plan to have. This time of the year will later be named after the god. We now call it “January” and their promises are now called “resolutions,” a tradition that continues on today.

Similar to the Romans, people use January for setting both personal and professional goals. Since January is here, it’s time to start thinking of your goals, as well as the goals of your team.

But here’s something to think about, only 8% of goals make it past the first month. Most of the time personal goals are dropped due to a simple lack of conviction, but in the business world, it usually chalks up to volatility. Work happens, and by the time you formally write up your work plan, it is already off schedule. But we keep trying to tell the future hoping for success.

Last year, I facilitated a team exercise designed to answer one question: Where would we, as a team, like to be in one year? I reserved a couple of hours, bought my team lunch, and parked myself at the white board as I wanted this to be their exercise, not mine. The desired deliverable was to create meaningful progress in priority areas by empowering the front line team members to provide insight on the priority areas. Together we came up with 3 priorities that the team wanted to focus on for 2016.

After the exercise, I broke each priority into goals for the individual team member. The way I went about this was to think of the 3 priorities as Thematic Team Goals. The individual goals were designed to answer the question “what’s my part to play in this goal?”

Each individual goal clearly defined my expectation out of each member. As a team member, they each had a responsibility in every Thematic Goal. So I wanted to challenge them to do their part to make the team successful. A full example of an individual goal that’s tied to a themed goal can be found at the bottom of the article.

Walking into this exercise, I kept in mind several values:


  1. Make the goals memorable – Most years, my team would only look at goals during midyear and end year review time. I always found this to be a pitfall for traditional goal setting processes, so I wanted to change things. I envisioned a world where team members had the goal in mind every day. Something that was commonly talked about on the floor without my interjection. This is why I wanted to go with the team creation exercise. They now feel more invested in the outcome because they created it.
  2. Make the goals Universal – For the same reason as above, I wanted to create goals that unified the team. Everyone had their individual goals, but since they were tied back to team goals, it changed the perspective from inward to outward. Everyone was working toward team success.
  3. No projects – When I first took Lead of the team, I found myself giving projects to individuals that I thought would be the perfect fit. The problem was priorities shift through the year, and I kept finding myself canceling goals or creating new ones based on the new information. I wanted to create goals that better-handled volatility, which wasn’t easy.
  4. Make the goals a priority – through this exercise, my team was able to tell me what they deemed as really important. So if it was important to them, I was going to make sure it stays front and center for the entire year. I added the three Thematic Goals to our weekly meeting to discuss first thing once per week. Usually only took about 5 mins but it reinforced the team’s values. This was the most powerful decision I made in the process and key for its success.

Wrap up

I think that people sometimes view SMART or CLEAR goals as busy work. Something that’s used for management and can be thrown away after the document is written up. This thought always bothered me. Goal setting is a tool in the leader’s toolbox.

I too fell into this school of thought, questioning the validity of this process. But after careful thought, I was able to try it from a different direction. It was like I was holding a hammer from the wrong end, and wondering why it won’t drive the nail as intended. Instead of blaming the hammer, I chose to hold it differently and try again.

So if you or your team looks down on your current goal setting process, I recommend you give this exercise a try. My team can now state all their goals on the fly, and they achieved every goal for the year with minimal push from their leader. The feedback was so positive; I am thinking of ways to build upon it for 2017. This exercise renewed my faith in goal setting and has been an extremely valuable tool as a young leader.

I hope everyone enjoyed the read. As always, please share your thoughts/comments/experiences about goal setting in the comments below. Let’s start 2017 off on a strong note!


Bonus Example of One of My Teams Smart Goals

Project Management Focus – Be remarkable project managers

SMART Goal: Projects are what we consider to be the method of bringing the state of the art forward. As a true project manager, I will need to balance and prioritize project work with support and meta to ensure that the EODT is pushing forward. As part of my focus on developing project management skills, I will

  • Recognize affected teams and involve them early
  • Schedule a project kickoff
  • Acquire requirements
  • Determine and document scope
  • Create a detailed project plan with accurate milestones and target dates
  • Perform thorough QA
  • Document project progression using OneNote and TFS
  • Communicate effectively to business partners and interested parties
  • Complete the project

As this is a team strategy, I will do this for every project I am assigned.

                Meets Expectations

At the start of a project, I will hold a “kick-off” meeting to signify the beginning stages of the project. This meeting should involve a representative from each team that has involvement in the project. A defined project scope will be created and from it, a project plan with time line will be determined. The project plan will be split into accurate milestones. All large to small projects will be completed within 80% of the estimated time. During implementation, an open line of communication will be facilitated and maintained via progress reports and updates to business partners and other interested parties. I will work with the end user to come up with a detailed testing criteria in which I can perform QA testing. The goal is to minimize the bugginess of software when we release it to production. Feedback loops should be a part of the project plan and will need target dates for the end.


I am able to coordinate several teams simultaneously to hit all project plan estimates. When I do, I am viewed as the authority and ring leader of the project effort by all effected parties. Unit testing will be worked into the project plan with a stated realistic goal for code coverage. Code reviews will be coordinated and thorough documentation of all decisions made during the project will be kept. All agreed upon deliverables will be delivered by project end unless previously negotiated otherwise. I am able to cast and sell a 3 year vision of the project effort that is in alignment with IS goals.


                Exceeds Expectations (may include but not limited to)

I will become an Expert at project management. I am able to coach all team members in proper project management and estimation practices and evangelize throughout AECI.

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4 Helpful Tips to Building Team Standards and Avoiding Fires

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Did you know that in 1904, the John E. Hurst & Company building in Baltimore Maryland broke out in flames? It consumed the entire building and began to spread to others causing what is now known as “The Great Baltimore Fire.”

Firefighters from the DC, New York, and Philadelphia areas responded to the fire but were unable to control it. This is because the fire took place before city safety standards had been created. There were no fire hydrants in the area. So despite the extra help, with no water, they were all but useless.

The fire burned for 30 hours and destroyed over 2,500 office buildings and homes before it was finally put out. Not long after, cities started creating safety standards that prevented this type of destruction in the future. Standards are important because they can sometimes save us in a fire. Both the physical and metaphorical ones.

This segues nicely into my main topic, creating team standards to avoid the metaphorical “office fires.”

I recently went through a team exercise to build out a set of standards. I wanted everyone to create the standard together but not fall into the trap of design by committee, which admittedly was a difficult balance to find. Below is the process I came up with to manage this dilemma.

The Process

The creation of team standards was actually something that the team wanted. At the beginning of the year, I worked with my group to determine three themed goals. It was an exercise facilitated by me but lead entirely by my team. Dozens of ideas were discussed, and it was discovered that a unified standard was unanimously voted on as a high enough priority to include into our year plan.

Now that my team decided on the direction, it was now up to me to make sure they were put in a position to be successful. I needed to make sure that Standards Creation was a priority by gaving time, focus, and guidance through the process. I wanted to create a recipe for success that we could use while developing standards into the future.

I did this by doing a couple of things:

  1. They chose the goal, so I made it official – I wanted to reinforce that everyone needs to be involved in the creation of standards. I assured them that for this to work, we would need to come together and form something that we could all get behind. I explicitly created a goal for every team member and included it on their annual HR forms. The goal described in detail my expectations for participation and development. I wanted it to be official to make sure it didn’t slip through the cracks or get reprioritized, as so many internal efforts do.
  2. I made everyone responsible but one person accountable – Because I wanted this to be a group effort, I made everyone on my team responsible for the success of these standards. But to make progress, there needed to be someone moving us along the path to success, and it shouldn’t be me. As I said, I look at my position as one of tapping into someone’s ability to be successful, not doing it for them. Therefore, I assigned someone to be accountable for the creation of a particular standard. They were responsible for organizing meetings, keeping track of questions that needed to be answered, and delegating writing duties (even to me) when they saw fit. I too was responsible for the success.
  3. I made myself clear on the arguments I wanted – When a meeting was set up, the person accountable for the project would send out topics ahead of time. I just required the team to come prepared to discuss. I asked that language be used in an objective manner. I explained that phrases like “I like doing it this way” or “this is how we have always done it” should only be used as a single bullet point and not the main argument. Because of this, each conversation was meaningful and near emotion free.
  4. This is not a democracy; I made the final call – I was walking a fine line with this tactic. Design by committee can be unproductive. Sometimes the best advice can be overlooked due to the group trying to compromise with one another. That’s where I came in. If there was a compelling argument to be made, even if it wasn’t the majority, it was always an option. I made sure to keep perspective on what’s best for the company when the team may be overlooking some key facts. This was not a frequent occurrence, but there were a few decisions that had to be made when it wasn’t part of the majority.

Wrap up

As a team, we were able to achieve success with this method with very few lessons learned moments. We created a recipe for success that we will be able to rinse and reuse. The one thing I would prepare you for is when a developer says “I want to have better team standards,” that they really mean “I want the team to standardize around how I do things.” This is a conflict area that you may have to navigate through, and it also may come as a morale hit when pushing through the process. However, if you prepare yourself for this eventuality, and make sure you are clear with the “why” of every decision, you should navigate it just fine.

I hope you enjoyed the read and good luck with implementing this yourself. If you have any questions for me or if you have your process you would like to share, please leave a comment below (or connect with me).

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The Constitution…Is it Scalable?

Reading Time: 3 minutes


I have a fun fact for you: Did you know, there are spelling errors in The United States Constitution? It’s true, if you look at the States column, you will notice that Pennsylvania is spelled Pensylvania minus an “n.”


Here’s another one for you: Did you know that George Washington almost didn’t attend the creation of the constitution? At the time, he was busy with his estate, and quite frankly doubtful that a united constitution would work. His choice was voluntary.

Of course, he went and later became the 1st president of the United States, but think about how things would have been different if he would have accepted his inability to make time or shed doubt.

The US Constitution is a cultural pillar of our nation. It sets the tone for the present and is amendable for the future. It’s a great example of how you reach millions of people with standard messaging and values. This leads me to question, is it scalable? Can the idea of a constitution be used at the business or even a team level? In this article, I discuss the purpose of an organization constitution and what it could look like.

What is the purpose?

An organizational constitution should be the framework for your company to either move to or sustain a cultural existence. In his book, “The Culture Engine” Chris Edmonds goes into detail about this topic. He states that the purpose of an organization constitution is to clearly establish 1) Purpose 2) Values 3) Strategy and 4) Goals.

In other words, an organizational constitution is a leadership tool that leaders use to provide clarity. The goal being that any employee in the organization should be able to reference it when they have questions regarding company culture or value system.

How to organize it

At the company I work for, we do not have an organizational constitution at the top level. However, at the Division level (next tier down) we did create an organizational constitution. In an effort not to fall out of line with the company mission, we simply used our business’s Mission as a baseline for the document.

To create the document we had to answer the following questions:

1)    Who are we? – Through answering this question, we were able to come up with an internal mission that helps serve our global mission

2)    What do we do to fulfill our mission? – This exercise resulted in us creating 5 pillars of success that all helped us achieve our mission. These will vary for your team/company, but a few examples of our pillars are “Provide Reliable Infrastructure” and “Recruit, Train, Retain Talent.”

3)    How do we achieve excellence in each pillar? – This ties directly to the question above. It’s the “how” to the “what.” For each pillar, we created a strategy to achieve excellence and turned it into a 5-year perspective with achievable goals.

4)    What values do we want to instill into our work? – This resulted in a set of values that are now the foundation for cultural growth. We created a document that goes with the constitution that digs into these values. We call this document the 5C’s; Create, Craftsmanship, Community, Communication, and Change. This is how we set expectations for team members and provide insight into employee growth.

I made sure to point out that we did not have a top-level Constitution because you may not get company buy-in to create one. If that’s the case, that shouldn’t be a show-stopper. I believe you can do this at any level. Just start with your team if needed.

One thing to note would be to keep the overall mission in mind upon creation. A constitution is meant to be unifying, but if it conflicts with the company mission, it could be viewed as a revolt.

Wrap Up

I recognize that this exercise takes time, and starts with a reasonable amount of uncertainty of success. If these thoughts creep into your head, just think about George Washington in the intro. I’d say it worked out pretty well for him and I don’t see why you can’t do the same. You could basically be as big of a deal as the first president of the United States.

On a serious note, if you are concerned with company culture this is a fantastic way to steer the ship. It’s just like everything else and needs to be made a priority to work.

I recommend “The Culture Engine” by Chris Edmonds for further reading if you are interested. And as always, I would love to hear your experiences with company constitutions. If you have anything you would like to discuss, you can always contact me on social media or leave a comment below. I hope you enjoyed the read!

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