In an online posting on “The 8 Stupidest Management Fads of All Time,” Geoffrey James critiques some of the most common management techniques used over the last few decades—Six Sigma, matrix management, reengineering, the search for excellence, and so forth. One that he attacks is management by objectives.
Anyone who was involved in a large organization—profit, not-for-profit, religious—in the last half of the 20th century has been exposed to and been expected to practice management by objectives. As James notes, the theory behind the approach is that you “define objectives within an organization so that management and employees agree to the objectives and understand what they are [to do] in the organization. Then [you] compare the employee’s actual performance with the standards set and agreed upon.” This is often the basis for the employee’s evaluation and compensation.
The reality is that employees spend hours making plans for a future that looks nothing like what we anticipated. As James says, “As a result, everyone ends up either doing something that might have worked a year ago or doing something that wasn’t in the original plan and then spends extra effort making it look as if they were performing to the plan.”
Now James is not against setting goals, but he sees all of this as either a waste of time or as a game to be played where you set expectations as low as possible or set goals so vague that you can interpret anything you do as success!
This caught my attention because those of us who are life coaches work with individuals to set goals. Many use the well-known SMART approach. Such a goal has these elements:
- Relevant or realistic.
SMART goals are formulated to help an individual have direction or purpose in their personal development.
How does this differ from MBO (management by objectives)? Let me suggest several ways.
First, SMART goals are made by the individual for his or her personal development rather than for an organization. They may be work related, but just as often they deal with issues such as health, spirituality, and family relations. The “pay off” is a healthier, more productive, and more satisfying life.
Second, in a coaching relationship, the goals can be renegotiated as circumstances change. Life happens! Coaches realize this and, without abdicating their responsibility to help a person move toward his or her goals, they monitor both progress and life situation and help the client to keep the goals realistic and attainable. The final decision about changes, of course, is up to the individual being coached.
Third, the individual is the final judge of whether he or she has met the goal. Although the coach helps the person develop accountability structures, the final decision about whether the goal has been achieved is up to the client.
In short, in a coaching relationship, goals are not meant to be restrictive but empowering. When developed and used properly, they are an effective means for individual growth and development.