The bad: Where SMART stops being smart
That leaves measurable and relevant -- SMART's "M" and "R." They're where SMART's IQ nosedives.
Start with "measurable." American business has developed an unhealthy obsession with measurability. The plain fact of the matter is that there's an inverse correlation between an item's measurability and its importance.
Let's imagine you work for a retailer and left IT for an opportunity in sales management (it could happen!). You're given an assignment: Improve customer satisfaction. Good luck measuring that. It's been tried -- over and over again. It never works.
You decide to abandon the impossible-to-measure "satisfaction" in favor of something more tangible and behavioral: the extent to which new customers shop your stores because of referrals from other customers.
Sounds like a plan -- except that in retail, identifying repeat customers depends on their using the same credit card every time they make a purchase. If you can't identify repeat customers, you certainly won't know when you have a new one. Assuming you can figure that one out, how are you going to ask them why they ended up in your store instead of one of your competitors? At the same time, is there anything more important in retail than having customers come back and bring their friends?
One more thing: "Measurable" implies an ability to assign numbers to things. Let's go back a step, because assigning numbers isn't all it's cracked up to be. If you understand that "measurable" really means you can tell if you're making progress, we're on more solid ground -- not solid, but more solid. Metrics is a deep, deep topic, while insisting goals be measurable is a shallow, shallow requirement.
The ugly: How SMART becomes irrelevant to next-gen IT
Let's move on to the "R" in SMART: relevant. Far be it from me to argue that goals should be irrelevant. Of course they should be relevant, which is to say, they have to be consistent with the company's larger, strategic goals.
Yippee skippy, because this is where SMART starts to fall apart.
First: A company can assign thousands of goals to thousands of managers, all of which are entirely relevant, without their ever fitting together to achieve a larger strategy. That's because "relevant" (or "consistent with" or any other equivalent attribute) isn't the same as "advances." It's worse than that.
Imagine that your company is trying to improve its overall level of integration and is implementing an ERP suite as part of its plan to achieve that strategy. If that's the plan, it's going to take more than a swarm of independent goals, each relevant to improving integration. It's going to take a carefully orchestrated set of interconnected goals, designed to fit together to achieve the strategy -- a very different matter.
Another problem with "relevant" is that it's where SMART starts to look synonymous with NAÏVE (not really an acronym, but what the heck). That's because of something every manager who's ever submitted a project proposal knows how to do: write the obligatory paragraph or two connecting the dots between what the manager wants to do and what the company says is its strategy.
Any manager whose responsibilities aren't a complete waste when it comes to making the company tick can easily establish that just about anything is relevant. It doesn't even take much creativity. But a bunch of managers, all busily assigning SMART goals that are merely relevant, easily become presiders over a bunch of organizational silos -- which, when you get down to it, isn't a SMART way to lead an organization.
This story, "How management fads are killing IT ," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Bob Lewis' Advice Line blog on InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.