Let’s move up just a bit from the focus of a meeting and closing for milestones, and think about the art of setting objectives. I am old enough to remember when setting Objectives and the Key Tasks necessary to achieve the objectives was a fairly new concept at the individual level. Nowadays no one in their right mind would take on a job where the objectives were not specific and agreed between the two parties: the manager and the person with the objective to achieve.
And yet it is surprising how poor the quality of these objectives frequently is. They simply do not live up to the essential attributes of a good objective. Let’s take a team that is working together and work out how they can be sure that their objectives are consistent and that the sum of all the objectives will reach the overall objective the team is tackling. The trick is to make them SMART. Once again, I am not sure who first coined this acronym. To be honest, I thought it was me for a long time, but the term appears so frequently in books and training manuals that I am now not sure.
Incidentally, I took the phrase into common parlance in Hewlett Packard when I ran a series of training courses for their salespeople. Years later the word SMART was still in use, but I was amazed that only one word was the same as I had used in the original training courses. Talk about Chinese whispers and ‘Send re-enforcements we are about to advance’ becoming ‘Send three and fourpence we are going to a dance’ .
Anyway, here is my version of this immensely useful acronym.
To be an acceptable statement of a team’s aim, a goal in any plan must be SMART:
* Related to the customer
There is no point in wasting precious time on planning an objective that is going to occur even if the team went off on a cycling tour of the Scottish Highlands. The job has to be difficult enough to merit the time required to make and implement the plan.
Further, it is the role of the salesperson to change the world. He or she needs to set goals which test the ability of the team to be persuasive, i.e. to change people’s behaviour. A good planning session will often change or add to the original goal as the team examines what the opportunities are.
If this happens it is indeed right to change the goal. With all elements of any plan, you need to remain flexible to an ever-changing environment and to new ideas.
The normal measure of a sales goal is a sum of money that the team is going to achieve in revenues or in profits.
In theory the team should be interested in both, and set a target that predicts the revenue value and the resultant profit. In practice many companies, for good reasons, do not give the profit responsibility to salespeople at all and they may even not be able to predict profitability.
Other measures in a sales campaign can be more qualitative than quantitative. You may set an objective to impress someone with a demonstration, for example, but in most cases you can get even these measures down to a number. ‘On a scale of one to ten, how did you find the demonstrated performance of this equipment?’
It is unfortunate when team leaders see an opportunity, prove a good business case and then fail to agree the goal because people are not willing to propose the risk to senior management. Achievable
Having made certain that the goal is stretching, the team must also believe that it can be achieved. The team should be sufficiently close to the problem or opportunity to recognize where there is a feasible chance of success.
The achievability test is particularly important where new technology is being considered that managers will recognize as carrying extra risk. It is unfortunate when team leaders see an opportunity, prove a good business case and then fail to agree the goal because people are not willing to propose the risk to senior management.
The key to checking achievability is to ask this question of as many people as possible and at as high a level as possible: ‘Do you think this team can achieve this objective in the current circumstances?’
Related to the customer
Just as we must be able to see what the benefit of the objective is for the team in terms of revenues and profits, so we must also get a flavour of what is in it for their customer. Be the customer internal or external, this rule still applies. If they are setting objectives that do not have a benefit to their customer, they have to ask themselves why.
The action of checking the objective with the customer can be useful in terms of getting the customer’s agreement on the main benefit statement that the team will aim at while implementing the plan. Incidentally, this book uses the word ‘customer’ to include external and internal customers; so if your selling or persuasiveness is all aimed at people inside your organization, they are your customers.
The date of the completion of the goal completes the rules of setting appropriate objectives.
It is uncanny how many objectives are targeted to end by the date of the completion of the company’s financial year. Once again, the concentration must be on the customer’s view. Is the timescale suitable for him as well for the team?