SMART objectives in moderation please

As a technology manager a big part of what I do is trying to help people do their jobs well. That includes removing obstacles, being an advocate when there is a problem, making sure the team is operating efficiently, ensuring people can usually work a normal day without overtime, and overall making sure they are happy and enthusiastic in their job.

Part of that process involves doing performance reviews to check-in a few times a year, get feedback from their colleagues, give raises, evaluate progress, identify areas for improvement or professional development, etc… On the whole I think the review process is a good thing to formally touch base but it should be pretty light weight and not too time consuming. After all, I’d rather have my team members working on adding value to our customers than spending days writing self evaluations.

The discussion inevitably arises around SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time bound) objectives. In some cases they are obvious and make a lot of sense to me such as X% uptime for a sysadmin or Y% unit test coverage for the programmers. However, when you start trying to make all objectives SMART it can work against the organization! Like measuring lines of code, defects filed in the bug tracking system, achieving Z hours of logged work per developer per release, etc… These are all numbers that encourage employees in the wrong direction, such as asking people not to file bugs in the bug tracking system, inflating actual hours worked, etc…

This comes to my final point. Trust! Many of the most meaningful objectives for an employee or organization are not SMART but that’s OK. An organization needs to trust it’s managers to be able to evaluate their people on non measurable (subjective) objectives. After all that keeps an organization or employee more agile to respond to change. Quite frankly if a manager can’t review an employee simply based on gut instinct and peer review, then there’s a problem! Don’t get me wrong, I understand the value of SMART objectives, they just need to be applied in moderation in the areas where they are appropriate!

Joel has also blogged on why you should scrap performance reviews.

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