This is the first of the blog posts based on the top ten most read Straight Talk Tips that go to my clients each month. The tips are free and you can sign up for them here

Moving targets re-title: How to set realistic objectives

Conventional wisdom holds that when you want people to perform at their best you start out by making sure they know what to do. This can be in the shape of targets, goals, objectives, key performance areas and standards. The acronym SMART has been in use for many years.

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Agreed
  • Realistic
  • Time bound.

There is some skill involved in using each of the elements in the model. Realistic for example, means different things to different people.

What is a realistic target when you are dealing with a person who is demotivated and has a strong negative attitude? He or she will tend to block any suggestion as to what they can achieve with ‘Yes’ followed quickly by ‘But’. People like this are skilled at finding reasons why even the lowest targets cannot be achieved, because for them any target is unrealistically high.

Dealing with them requires that you handle the negative attitude first: then you can establish whether they have the ability to perform. You can ensure they achieve targets by using a traditional command and control leadership style. But this is heavy handed and you may not have the time or willingness to use such a style. You might get results from it, but neither you nor the employee will gain much satisfaction from your working relationship.

At the other end of the scale you have the clever, self-driven, achievers: people with ambitions and their own agendas: who regard being told what to do as an attack on their self esteem. They want broad guidelines, resources and the freedom to tackle challenging real world problems. Then they want recognition of their success. They would consider the discipline of setting SMART targets an insult to their intelligence.

Leading high achievers needs a light touch, with the ability to listen and talk. As a leader you must have personal credibility and be able to develop open, trusting relationships. You must be good at providing support and recognition for performance and be able to accept that others may have new and creative ways of getting things done. When you work with smart self motivated people, results can sometimes be unpredictable, but the rewards for everyone can be immense.

Different types of people make different demands on leaders and leadership style. Leaders have to be flexible in their styles and be able to match their leadership to the needs of each of their people. One size never fits all.

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