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Set Clear Expectations using S.M.A.R.T. guidelines

When I talk to executives every day, there’s hardly a conversation that doesn’t include the same 2 things: “Why aren’t I getting more done?” … and “Why aren’t my people getting more done”?

There are several simple and proven leadership tools that can save your bacon many times over. This one is kind of an “oldie but goody” so you’ve probably seen it around. If you’re saying, “that old thing again”, I’ll give you 5-1 if you can come up with something better for setting goals and objectives.

The question is … have you really used it?

Why aren’t our people getting more done?

As with the common cold, there’s probably no cure … but there are some things we can do to manage the symptoms. One tool that will alleviate many of the symptoms is very simple : SET CLEAR EXPECTATIONS. When I hear the daily complaints about the lack of accountability within the organization … and ask if clear expectations have been set so that there is no misunderstanding about what needs to get done … I usually get the thousand yard stare.

I really don’t have the time to do all of this

What do you think you’d find if you compared the time it takes to SET CLEAR EXPECTATIONS … to the time you spend chasing people down who aren’t doing what they’re being asked because you’re not on the same page about what they’re supposed to do?

When this comes up, I often see someone tap their forehead and say, “I know exactly what they’re supposed to do and they know it, too. I’ve told them a dozen times.” For others, a goal is simply a mirage, as with phrases like, “It’s just a goal“, which tells the listener they really don’t have to pay much attention to it.

When I say, “Shall we go and see if it’s as clear in their head as it seems to be in yours?”, our conversation turns to whether any of this has been written down so there is a clear and indisputable reference point. “As soon as I get a chance I will write it down ….” is often the response, but it speaks volumes about why people aren’t getting done what you expect.

Let’s be a little S.M.A.R.T.er about what each of these words mean

Each of these 5 letters is important to signify a special attribute … but in this case, the whole is certainly greater than the sum of its parts. I can promise you that if you set goals and objectives for your organization and the individuals in it, using the simple S.MA.R.T. acronym, you’ll be farther ahead than most.


What is the SPECIFIC goal to be achieved? Avoid being too general. The more precise the target, the greater the commitment to follow through. It isn’t enough to say “we need more sales in your territory”.

Say something like, “You need to increase sales in your territory by a minimum of 6.5%.”


The goal or objective must be measured in terms of cost, quality, quantity, and timeliness, something that can actually be measured. Once again, it isn’t enough to say “you need to spend more time in the field networking in the industry.” Be more specific, something like “find three opportunities to speak to industry groups and three other industry conferences and meetings to attend, at least one of which will allow us to set up a booth or table to meet prospective customers.” You can measure that.


Goals should be jointly established rather than imposed. When clear expectations aren’t agreed to in advance, you’ll learn why that’s important during the very first performance review. It won’t take long for that conversation to turn to confusion and misunderstanding about what the goals and objectives were in the first place. If they’re agreed to, written down and regularly refreshed, it’s pretty hard for one of the parties to say they didn’t understand the objectives.


The goal needs to be “realistic” so it can actually be achieved. Using our earlier examples, it’s probably unrealistic to say “raise sales in your territory by 75%” or “speak at 15 industry events” this year (unless that’s someone’s primary job). Set realistic goals that provide a challenge and stretch the employee, but make sure they’re attainable. If they’re not, no one will pay much attention and you’ll venture into the quicksand of “It’s just a goal”.


A well-defined deadline for when the project must be accomplished adds a sense of urgency … but it’s often more valuable to set a “TIMELINE” rather than a deadline. This allows you to follow up BEFORE the deadline to make sure things are on track and if not, to re-negotiate the deadline so everyone can succeed. If you’re only tracking deadlines, you’re likely to catch up to it too late to help.

If this is all too much trouble … the climb will be steep!

When it comes to achieving Accountability within your organization, there is no substitute for SETTING CLEAR EXPECTATIONS. If you do this, you’ll will take THE most important step in leading and managing your people … because there will be no doubt about what’s expected. When that is firmly set, it’s much easier to get more done … for everyone.

How does Accountability work in your organization? Is this what’s missing? Is there anything you’ve found that works better?

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