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My SMART as Hell Journey: Alignment

Posted by on March 12th, 2013 with 0 Comments

In 1993, I was starting a new engineering assignment in Tachikawa, Japan. I was a member of an ‘elite team’ where every member had the title ‘Senior Engineer’ – except me, even though I had more experience than most and possessed an excellent track record.

So I asked my new manager, “Okay, what do I need to do to be promoted to Senior Engineer?”

He replied, “Well, I’m sure if you keep doing what you’re doing it will happen naturally. You’re on the right track”.

And I said, “Okay. Thanks.”

That night, I sat down for dinner with my wife and I was shared the story with her.

As often happens when you say things out loud – psychologists call this the difference ‘pre-articulate’ and ‘post-articulate’ – I realized how stupid my words sounded.

So – as I’m telling her this story – I suddenly stopped, “Wait a minute. If I keep doing what I’m doing, won’t I keep getting what I’m getting?

The following day, I went back into the office, and sat with my manager, “I was thinking about this last night and it doesn’t seem like much of a recipe for success. I’m only supposed to in Japan for a year. The way I see it, all I can control is this year, so I’d kind of like to work it out with you so I can get this promotion before I leave”.

He thought a moment and replied, “Well, I can’t promote you right now. I barely know you. I haven’t seen your work at all, although it looks good on paper.”

I said, “I get that. So what would I have to do for you this year in order to get you to promote me?”

And he says, “Well, let’s think about that.

So we talked around the idea for a few minutes, until he said, “Look, essentially your job here is to go home. If you don’t train people to take your place, then we’re not successful and I’ll have to keep you for another year”.

That made sense to me, so we agreed that my job was to replace myself.

I then asked, “What would it mean to ‘replace myself’?”

“Well”, he said, “You’re one engineer. If, at the end of the year, we have one engineer who can do what you do, you can leave.”

I nodded, “That’s fine. What does that specifically mean?”

We looked at each other in silence. I think we both realized that we were about to start talking about my goal in a way that managers and employees rarely talk about goals.

So we started brainstorming. We talked about the fact that there are two jobs that an engineer does. One is preventative maintenance to make sure the machine doesn’t break. The other is corrective maintenance to make sure that a broken machine gets fixed.

We eventually settled on this: when I trained one engineer to do 100% of the preventative maintenance tasks and 20% of the corrective maintenance tasks – on their own – that would be qualify as the ‘handoff of a replacement engineer’.

If I could complete that task within my one-year assignment, I’d get at least a ‘meets requirements’ on my review. I’d get my promotion. And I could go home.

My manager agreed, “Okay, that’s clear. That’s really good.”

I then said, “What if I train two engineers?”

He countered, “Well, I don’t think you can, but if you do, I’d give you an ‘exceeds requirements’ on your review. If you train three engineers, I’d give you a ‘far exceeds’. But I don’t think that’s possible.”

“That’s okay”, I said, “But if I write all this down and send it back to you, then we are aligned and these are my goals for the year?”

“Yeah, absolutely”, he answered.

Unknowingly, I left his office with the first SMART as Hell goal of my career:
Train 1 Japanese Engineer to complete 100% of Corrective Maintenance Tasks and 20% of Corrective Maintenance Tasks, unassisted, by March 31st, 1994.

  • It was Specific:
    Who? a Japanese Engineer
    What? Preventive and Corrective Maintenance Tasks from published tasks lists
  • It was Measurable:
    100% of Preventive Maintenance Tasks
    20% of Corrective Maintenance Tasks
  • It was Aggressively Attainable:
    Training one engineer was attainable. Two would be a stretch. Three would be very difficult, but the target was dangled there for me.
  • It was Relevant:
    I was provided with a goal that would provide the company with great value.
    Additionally, the goal was tied to my personal goal of achieving ‘Senior Engineer’ status.
  • It was Time-bound:
    I needed to accomplish the goal within one year.

While I would not learn of the SMART acronym for another 5 years, this goal met all of the criteria and forever changed the way I approached my goals, my career, and my managers.

SMART as Hell Exercise:

  1. Review: your current goals.
  2. Ask: if each goal is Specific, Measurable, Aggressively Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound.
  3. Consider: whether you and your manager (or evaluator) are aligned on the goal.
  4. Connect: the value of this goal to your organization and to yourself personally.
  5. Ask: Is the goal equally important to both of you?
  6. Resolve: Any misalignment that you surface with the above steps.
Share your questions, comments, and reflections below.

 

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