Infusing the SMART Process with Brilliance

infusing smart process

“Here’s to the crazy ones — the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things. They push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.” – Steve Jobs

This statement flamboyantly defies order and convention. Coming from the late Steve Jobs, the master of revolutionary thinking and the accepted genius of modern times, he could have easily been talking about himself. Guys and gals like Jobs thumb their noses at the status quo and the tried and true workplace conventions. The spirit that makes them tick can’t be replicated. Or can it? Is there a way to bring out that creative, brilliant impulse in the regular course of doing business? SMART methodology has its role in a company and is widely used in corporate America to create the broad brush framework for an organized work process. But there has to be something more for a company to trigger genius among employees. Let’s explore what that might be.

The Five Principal Rules of SMART Methodology

Can SMART methodology spark greatness? Let’s review the defining principles of SMART protocol:

  • Specific: Goals need to be specific. It’s better to know exactly what you intend to accomplish and make your objective as narrow and targeted as possible.
  • Measurable: How many sales calls will be placed? How many leads will be generated by the end of the day or week? These are quantifiable ways of determining if the goal has been reached.
  • Achievable: These are the incremental steps that lead to reaching the bigger goal. ‘‘Achievable” means it is neither out of reach nor below standard performance.
  • Realistic: Goals must be achievable. Capitalize on employees’ available skill set and existing levels of expertise.
  • Time-based: Each goal must have a time-frame, which both keeps teams on track and helps maintain focus.

The Dilemma with “Achievable” and “Realistic”

Mark Murphy points out in an insightful 2015 blog post, “’Smart’ Goals Can Sometimes Be Dumb,” that limiting employees to “achievable” and “realistic” goals is misdirected. He suggests that SMART principles actually hinder innovation. When employees are told to stick with ‘achievable’ goals, employees’ eyes glaze over and the conventional ways of doing things are trotted out yet again. SMART methodology does not really ask teams to work hard to do something unexpected and yes, even brilliant. So what is missing from the mix?

Fitting Genius into Smart Methodology

What do we do to take a hum-drum work process to another level? Murphy advocates training employees with new skills to help them achieve truly great goals. I agree with this. All great companies make on-going employee training a priority. People naturally want to grow and learn. By equipping team-members with new skills and opening their eyes to innovative approaches, you create an environment where people are encouraged to think, grow and apply fresh ideas to their work.

But I would add another element to the mix and I will call it “freedom to probe the possibilities and the impossibilities.” This means making room for the “unachievable” goals as well the standard “achievable” goals within the SMART methodology. If you listen to interviews by former employees of Steve Jobs, they will often tell you that Jobs would give them a goal that nearly everyone thought was unattainable. He would then give his brightest team members freedom to explore how to achieve this impossible goal. By giving developers freedom to explore the possibilities of a what looks on the surface like an unattainable objective, do we invite genius to blossom? I think we do.

So, give your employees new skills, give them support, resources and freedom to tinker with both the achievable goals and the so-called unachievable ones as well. Let’s see what happens. Steve Jobs did. And the rest is history.