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Moving Beyond SMART Goals to SMART Feedback


Moving Beyond SMART Goals to SMART Feedback

I love it when I am working with a client on an issue that strikes a nerve.

“Alice” is a senior executive at a technology firm, and she hired me because her employee survey feedback indicated a “lack of strategic direction” and she couldn’t understand why.

I interviewed her direct reports. They absolutely loved working with her, but couldn’t put their finger on “why” they felt the group lacked direction. Then one person complained that he didn’t know what to do with the feedback she gave him. “It’s important feedback – I just don’t know how to use it,” he said. After asking some of the other reports, it dawned on them as well that the feedback she provided was not specific enough to be helpful. It was her feedback that lacked direction.

I empathize.

As managers and leaders, we often use words that sound good but are meaningless without background. Typically it sounds like effective feedback, using all the right words, like “leader” and “innovation,” however without context, it is open to interpretation. Their view of leader, and your view of leader could be very different.

I ran a quick, highly not scientific poll with current clients and former co-workers about their thoughts on ineffective feedback they have received. I got a lot of fired up responses, and they all had a lot to say about it. Here are some of my favorites:  

“You should speak up more in meetings.”

“We need you to be more of a leader.”

“I would love for you to be more innovative in the new year.”

“You should try to be a bit more like Janet.”

All of these are important bits of feedback (even to Janet), yet none of them have real value because their meaning is too open to interpretation. They can’t be used. Why do you need them to speak more in meetings? Is there an example? What are the characteristics that you would use to define a leader? What does innovation look like to you? What is so damn special about Janet? All of these are the specifics that need to be included in order to effectively communicate your feedback. Without them, you are doing a disservice.

Here is the deal – we hate giving feedback. We don’t want to offend and we want people to like us. But, just like a band-aid when we were children, it’s easier to rip it off than prolong the pain. A leader’s biggest challenge and obligation is to improve the people around him or her.  

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Here is how: We’ve all heard of SMART goals; a framework to ensure that your objectives and plans are fully thought through and communicated to succeed in the most efficient manner possible. It’s a great mnemonic acronym. It’s cute, easy to remember and it works. And it works really well with compiling feedback.

  1. Be Specific – what does being a leader mean to you? Are there specific examples you can provide to help your employee understand your meaning?

  2. Be Measurable – How are you measuring success on this feedback? Feedback is meant to help the person improve – how do we know they have reached the goal?

  3. Be Achievable – Effective feedback should be actionable – will they be able to achieve something based on what you tell them?

  4. Be Relevant – I’m sure Janet is spectacular, but what about her work product is relevant to the person you are giving your feedback to?

  5. Be Timely – When are you expecting results? Give them a timeline in order to help make the feedback a priority.

The role of a manager or leader is to make the people around them better. Feedback to an employee is a fundamental tool to help your people grow. By using this framework, and communicating in a supportive manner, you can leave each meeting with no questions on interpretation.

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