Achieving GoalsHow (Goals, Strategy, Planning and Resources)Leadership and Management

Delegation of authority the SMART way

How to delegate using SMARTER goals

As a leader or manager you have to delegate tasks and authority in order for your team to work effectively towards achieving your aim. But this is simpler in theory than in practice. Often a leader’s’ experience is that – even when you think you have delegated something effectively – you still encounter problems. People may keep coming back and bugging you with questions, or alternatively the task is not done on time, or the job is not completed to the right standard.

To help avoid these issues we can use the acronym ‘SMART’ when delegating work. SMART stands for specific, measureable, attainable, relevant and time-bound.

This method is accredited to George T. Doran (who first described a version of the acronym in the November 1981 edition of Management Review) and since then the method has evolved to encompass various adaptations of the acronym including having an E (for evaluate) and an extra R (for re-evaluate) to create ‘SMARTER’ goals.

Whether you use SMART or SMARTER when delegating the acronyms provide a useful checklist and process by which both the manager and employee can agree upon the parameters for a task and both be accountable for its outcome.

S – Specific

When you give someone a task it needs to be specific. It needs to be clearly defined and unambiguous and to make sure that it is you can apply interrogatives used in The Right Questions and think about the what, where, why, who, and which of the problem.

Specific is the most useful word here but uou could also substitute ‘significant’ or ‘stretching’ in here if you want make a task more aspirational (such as a ‘BHAG’ – Big Hairy Audacious Goal – promoted by Jim Collins in Good to Great) or use it as a reminder to keep things ‘simple’ or ‘sustainable’.

M – Measurable

Next the task needs to be measureable. In other words it needs to be possible to track the progress of completion of the goal. This aspect is related to the ‘how’ interrogative in The Right Questions for every task needs a plan in order to achieve it and it will have a set of steps that can be measured as progress is made towards completion.

A – Attainable

The ‘A’ for attainable is a check to make sure the task is realistic and achievable. A task can stretch a person or a team (this is healthy) but if you are asking the impossible of someone it will quickly become de-motivational.

By asking this question we also confirm that the person is properly equipped and supported to achieve the task. A manager should be checking that they have provided the right training and resources to allow an employee to complete their work.

R – Relevant

The task needs to be relevant to the vision of the organisation. Does this piece of work take you a step closer to achieving your overall mission? It is in line with your values? If not you may need to redefine the task.

The work also relevant to the person you are delegating to. Are they the best person for the job? Is it part of their role and job description? Do they have the relevant skills and experience? Will they be developed by this task?

T – Time Dependent

Having to state a time makes you assess how long a piece of work should take. Asking the question ‘when?’ also makes you evaluate your priorities and any dependencies that one task may have upon another.

Deadlines also help to keep people accountable for finishing and stop a piece of work dragging on endlessly. The time element, as with everything else, should be set in agreement with the person you are delegating to so that you all ‘contract in’ to the parameters for the work.

E – Evaluate

Adding in the ‘E’ for evaluate is useful as it brings in the discipline of reviewing how well work has been done (as with the ‘Which’ question). It gives the opportunity for feedback; for praise, constructive criticism and learning on behalf of the manager and worker.

R – Re-evaluate

The re-evaluation is a continuation of the learning from the ‘Evaluate’ phase. Once you have identified some lessons these should have been incorporated in the next task delegation. For example the first time round the deadline might not have been achieved or the person may have needed more support to achieve the goal. Once the task has been re-set or a similar job delegated then the results can be re-evaluated to identify improvement.

If you have had experience using ‘SMART’ or ‘SMARTER’ tasks then please do share you story in the comments.

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