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Monday, 5 May 2014

It Is Impossible and It Won’t Work? Dare to be Different, and Give it a Try!

Vistage chairs met this week in Manchester for an excellent National Meeting and, as usual, there were a great many invaluable “take-aways” both during the formal meetings and in chat afterwards.

One which struck me forcibly was:

·      “SMART Objectives Are Boring!”

When one has a deeply ingrained conviction and has used the SMART acronym on many occasions, hearing someone rubbish it is shocking, that is, until a little circumspection is applied.

Starting at the beginning, the SMART acronym says that all goals or objectives need to be defined in a SMART way, that is:

·      S – specific
·      M – measurable
·      A – achievable
·      R - relevant
·      T  - time base.

All very logical and indeed sensible.

Setting of the goal must be done in a carefully crafted manner with specific outcomes defined.  I have seen goals defined in the past by someone seemingly attempting to write the next great British novel or so it appeared from the volume of words which were supposed to encapsulate what it was intended to achieve.

A couple of short bullet points should always suffice in defining the objectives.

Similarly it must always be possible to measure the progress and ultimate result of the project otherwise the definition of success will vary from person to person.  Equally unless a project is time based with finite deadlines specified, there will never be a satisfactory conclusion (or is that just stating the obvious?).

However, when we look at the middle two, achievable and relevant, it is perfectly possible to argue that both of them will lead to a mediocre result and will not, in any way, stimulate progressive thinking or action.

Indeed, they both would lead to a boring and probably predictable outcome with everyone feeling comfortable and unchallenged.

The fact is that mediocrity in thinking and planning leads inevitably to mediocrity in everything else and probably, in the event, to a mediocre result.

The question is therefore, can we work towards an objective which is not achievable or, at least, seems to be?

In so many cases the easily achieved objective becomes the norm and hinders any progression in the business.

Lee Thayer, US Vistage speaker and a great business thinker, tells the story of a discussion with a CEO who was aiming towards the conventional 10% increase in sales for the next few years.

When Lee suggested that this should be re-written doubling turnover in the next year, after the shock had dissipated somewhat, all the old clichés about the impossibility of achieving it came out.

Lee listened and after the CEO had spent his emotion, said to him:

“The question is, if we were to double turnover next year to $40million, what we need to do in order to achieve it, in specific terms, department by department?”

That was the light bulb moment for the CEO and eventually, with the enthusiastic input of his team, they went for it – and failed.

In fact they achieved $37.5 million and went on to grow at a great rate for some years.

The bald fact is that unless we use B-HAGS (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) we will achieve, at best, mediocrity which would give us more time to watch the competition speeding past us.

Henry Ford said “If you say you can and you say you can’t, you are always right” and great Vistage speaker Marcus Child says “You can if you think you can”, both of which just emphasise that positivity can overcome most obstacles to success.


Dare to be different, involve everyone and just watch the build up of engagement and enthusiasm in the people.

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