Archive for SMART Goals

Frank Zappa, Bicycles, and the Most Important Organizational Rule You’ll Ever Need to Know

In 1968, a time of turbulence and craziness, a very young Frank Zappa went on The Steve Allen Show and played what appeared to be a Concerto for Bicycle and Orchestra. The experiment (for these were experimental times) failed miserably.

It failed for a number of reasons, including the fact that those of us, in 2014, watching it for the first time, expected brilliance. Zappa, after all, is an acknowledged musical genius who died too young, a composer of rare talent who not only enjoyed pushing the envelope, but at times would intentionally shred that same envelope into a million tiny musical pieces, daring listeners to try and assemble meaning out of chaos, rhythm out of cacophony. And it was always there. So when a short-haired, clean-shaven Zappa ignores the obvious mockery Allen throws at him, we find ourselves thinking that we’re about to see genius shine, and expect, also, that Steve-O might just need to eat a healthy serving of humble pie.

It didn’t happen. Go ahead and check out the clip for yourself. It’s truly awful, and sounds rather like my Aunt Elsie screaming and crying at Easter dinner when she found out that she wasn’t eating roast beef, but had been lied to and it was—Oh, Dear!—lamb!

You can’t, it turns out, just throw seemingly disparate pieces together and expect them to sound good unless they are, somehow, aligned and in tune. The bicycle sounds themselves were rather interesting, as were the various horn sounds and string sounds and drum sounds and piano sounds. But without a proper composition and alignment across the instruments, nothing productive, nothing musical emerged.

The same is true in organizations, and here comes that Most Important Organizational Rule You’ll Ever Need to Know: If the various parts of your organization are not in tune and playing the same composition, all you’ll get is noise.

So how do you make sure things will sound melodic and perfectly in tune?

  1. It starts with the composition: These are your organizational goals, 5-7 clear SMART statements created by leadership. Without these, how will anyone know what melody to play?
  2. It continues with providing the right instruments: These are the people, processes, knowledge, and technology needed to play the parts. Having that beautiful Gibson Les Paul means nothing unless someone knows how to play it, after all.
  3. Then people need to become aware about their relationships with each other: Each person’s part meshes with everyone else’s; no one person can play the entire composition. A symphony is more than everyone playing their individual role, it’s also about everyone knowing what other parts people are playing. Only then do the full rhythm and beauty of the sounds emerge to achieve everyone’s goal—beautiful, melodic music.

That’s what it takes: Composition. Instrumentation. Relationship. That’s how you create an organizational symphony.

And one more thought: Now and then, it’s not a bad idea to throw a Zappa into the mix. They’re the players who keep us pushing the envelope. Let’s remember that the so-called Bicycle Concerto may not have worked, but it made us all think about new ways to compose and new instruments to play. Throwing that into the mix—and turning it, when possible, into new compositions—can keep our organizations fresh, creative, and growing.


Two Reasons to Set Goals that are “In Service Of”

Right around the first of every year, we take a look at the workshops we provide and run them through a quick review.  How are they working? Are clients getting the value we expect?  Are there things we’ve learned that can help us improve them?  So last year we began refining a workshop we give on effective goal setting. We provide this workshop both to large and small companies that are looking to systematize their annual goal-setting cycles, and to do so in ways that are both simple and strategic.  (Many companies, it turns out, are anxious to improve this important annual function).

We revisited parts of the standard offering—our use of the SMART model, for example, along with our focus on dependencies and mutual relationships—and found that they still held up very well. Still, we felt that there was probably something we could add that would enrich the program.  Finally, Renee came up with an interesting question, one that stems from her experience as an executive coach.

“Shouldn’t a goal be ‘in service of’ something?” she asked.

We thought about it for a bit during one of our short hikes with our dogs (full disclosure: we consider these daily excursions work time since we do most of our best brainstorming under the trees), and came to the conclusion that she was right.  If someone has a goal but they don’t know what higher-level purpose it serves, then why have it at all?

This idea of “in service of” is both simple and powerful. It’s about making sure that what you’re committing to is valuable to what others are looking to accomplish as well.  It means that the most important things we do are part of a system, and that the system is all the richer for us recognizing and enhancing that connection.

We spent some time thinking about what does and doesn’t work in the goal-setting experiences we had been through in our own careers, and realized that there were two specific areas in which goal-setting often fell short, and where this concept of “in service of” could add rich new meaning to what has historically been a largely rote annual exercise:

  • Goals are too often viewed in isolation. It’s our belief that goals can never be fully achieved by one person working completely alone.  There are always some dependencies—what we call “mutual relationships” in our team-building workshops—and that recognizing and surfacing those dependencies leads to more efficient work done by more engaged employees.  By using the concept of “in service of,” we help people recognize to whom they are making commitments and, correlatively, those who are dependent on them for success.
  • Goals are only rarely aligned throughout the organization. Whether working with large companies or start-ups, a consistent pattern emerged in the way goals were developed.  Usually the senior leadership team would establish some corporate goals that they would then roll-out to the company, after which managers would work with individuals on setting personal goals.  Only sometimes did departments define equally detailed goals, and we almost never saw anyone take the time to line those goals up side by side to see if anyone’s individual or team goals would help the corporation achieve the higher-level goals.  We realized that asking the simple question—“What are these goals in service of?”—would be an incredibly powerful way to maintain vertical alignment of all the goals within an organization.

Here’s how it could work: Imagine that a company has set an annual goal to increase market share by, say, five percentage points.  The sales group would then know that they needed to increase their prospect pipeline by some percentage in order to close more business.  The customer service department might also want to increase customer satisfaction in order to reduce the number of customers leaving, a key factor in overall market share.  Both of these departmental efforts would be “in service of” that higher level goal—the increase in market share.

A corporation, of course, will have more than just a single goal, and the goals set throughout the organization are not all going to be in service of every one of those corporate goals.  But they don’t have to be. It’s enough to know that every goal is in service of at least one higher level goal somewhere in the company.  That “network” of goal connections is what helps to ensure focus and alignment.

So that’s what we did: we augmented our approach by always making sure our customers could answer Renee’s brilliant and simple question: “What are your goals in service of?”

So: what about you.  What are your goals?  And what are they “in service of?”

[We welcome any inquiries about our goal-setting workshops.  Please email for more information.]




One of the most widely used and powerful tools for effective goal setting is the SMART model, first described by G. T. Nolan in a 1981 article published in Management Review and later popularized by Paul Meyer in his booklet, Attitude is Everything.

SMART is an acronym, with each letter describing a key quality of any effective goal:

  • Specific means that the goal will clearly state what your team will achieve and how.
  • Measurable means that the goal will have a specific marker by which you can know if you’ve succeeded.  This is usually a number or a percentage increase in some standard of performance. If my goal were to become a competent runner, I might, for example, set a goal of completing a 5k race
  • Attainable (or Achievable) means that you can picture the steps you would need to take to get there from here. Using the running example, it means that I can see myself buying a good pair of running shoes, finding a place to run, and setting aside a regular time every few days to practice.
  • Realistic means that I can picture the end goal and it feels reasonable to me.  If, for example, I’d set my sites on running a marathon, well… I can tell you that just wouldn’t happen for me. A 5k though? That I can see myself doing.
  • Time-bound means that we give ourselves a date by which we will achieve the goal.  For my running example, that might be the end of the year.

There’s more than just using the SMART model to setting good goals, however.

It is important that goals also meet the needs of others, that they are desired. Your goals should be important not only to you, but to, your team, your senior management, your company, and even other stakeholders such as other companies, strategic partners, and even the community at large. We refer to this idea when we say that your team’s goals should be “In Service Of” other, higher-level goals your company has. If, for example, your company is very focused on excellent customer service, then every part of that company would want goals which support that aim. A marketing department, for example, might have the responsibility to build an easier-to-use customer website, and the IT department might have a goal of 99.99% up time for that site.  All of this would be in service of maintaining the company’s reputation for excellent customer service. It also helps to ensure that the various departments are aligned to the same mission.

Most companies who work with SMART goals stop there.  SMART goals are very powerful, and companies that use them clearly have mature goal-setting processes.  However, we recommend an additional step:  Validate your SMART goals by making sure you can TRUST them.

The TRUST principles are components of a model designed to ensure that SMART goals will actually get you and your team where you want to go. It does this by reviewing the key needs of the people and teams for whom the goals are set.

TRUST, too, is an acronym, and stands for Transparent, Retrievable, Upwardly-compatible, Supported and Team-oriented.

  • Transparent goals are honest. As managers, we don’t want to set artificial targets, or have some “secret” target for our team that we want them to hit even though we’ve set the “public” target a bit higher.  We always want the goals to be transparent.
  • Retrievable means that the goals will be visible to everyone, and often. Too many times we’ve seen goals that get lost in an email folder or, worse, a file folder, leading to team members who can’t remember what they’re supposed to achieve.  The goals should be “front and center.”
  • Upwardly Compatible is another way of saying that the goals should be “in service of” the higher-level corporate goals, those that are set further up in the hierarchy.  This, as we’ve emphasized, is very important, as it ensures alignment through the company.
  • Supported means that the team has all they need to do the job. If technology is required, they can get it. If training is needed, it’s in the budget.  If temporary help is required during crunch times, it’s available.  The entire corporate ecosystem—including other departments on whom your team relies—is behind the effort.
  • Team-oriented means that the goals are designed around mutual success; when one person succeeds it helps everyone else to succeed.

SMART goals you can TRUST are an important element in any goal-setting program. Having specific, defined and honest outcomes is, we believe, one of the keys to effective teams and effective leadership.

To see a video slide show on this topic, please take a look at SMART Goals You Can TRUST, on the CharneyCoach YouTube Channel.  And for any further information or questions, please feel free to contact us through this website.