Notes on Leadership (3): The surprisingly hard task of setting goals

Dan Hon, again, again:

You’ll read what your organization has to say about itself, both internally (like reading your OKRs, or other goal-setting exercises) and externally.

What you’ll discover is that much of this internal documentation and writing and presentations and PowerPoints are, more or less, meaningless.

In other words, they may be difficult to measure or verify. Is it easy for you to check whether an objective has been achieved? Does it say the equivalent of be more efficient”? Do you know why more efficiency is required? How much is enough, or how much is too much? If an objective ends up saying something like implement modern practices”, then which ones, and why, and to what end?

Obviously goals should be SMART. It is remarkably hard to get smart people to set goals.

Coming up with SMART goals is hard. It is so hard that you would be forgiven for giving up in a large, many-person environment. It requires lots of negotiation, lots of contextual understanding and lots of alignment, otherwise people will just give up, by which I mean the phenomenon where a meeting or presentation happens and there are clearly people who do not understand, or disagree, and yet nobody says anything, for a variety of reasons.

Another challenge is that smart, usually important, people don’t set themselves enough time to create SMART goals. Either they think that the goals they set are self-evidently good (because they are the boss) or that they have lost the grounded way of thinking necessary to actually set detailed, measurable, goals.

The actually hard work of working through something in sufficient detail so that it has value beyond the end of the meeting is often not the responsibility of senior people.


June 25, 2022

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