Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

Using smart goals and data-driven assessment

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Smart goals and data-driven assessment help employees and managers map career advancement – Guest post by Danielle M.

Employees may start angling for a merit increase after a certain amount of time on the job, but discussions about advancement can get uncomfortable — and frustrating — if metrics are left out of the equation. Using metrics to measure progress toward certain milestones can make evaluations more valuable and help employees work toward their objectives.

Setting SMART goals

The SMART system works quite well for setting objectives and measuring performance. Here’s what the acronym means:

  • Specific: When an individual or team needs to tackle a large general goal, such as “Increase productivity,” it often helps to specify the desired action. Breaking down the job into smaller, more specific goals can also help. For example, “increasing productivity” may be clearer as “increasing number of items made per hour” or “decreasing the time it takes to solve problems.”
  • Measurable: How can an employee and manager measure performance on a specific goal? Often, when data is used to assess performance, a yes or no answer can ascertain whether a goal was accomplished. Did the individual meet production goals? Were all incidents of problems reported and resolved quickly?
  • Achievable: When setting goals, be sure that achieving the desired outcome is possible. A manager cannot increase productivity by taking away breaks, for example. But she may be able to implement a reward system.
  • Relevant: There’s no sense in creating a goal that doesn’t meet the needs of the company or department. Be sure to set goals that feed into larger goals for the team or organization.
  • Time-bound: Goals need to have an end date, even if it simply marks the beginning of the next phase. The timing aspect of a goal gives the employee and manager a window for evaluating progress toward the goal

Using metrics to assess workplace performance

Implementing the SMART system for performance reviews requires a certain amount of data collection. After all, tracking progress toward a specific and measurable goal is all about knowing how many of something happens according to a certain standard (often stated in terms of time). But the good news is that much of the information needed to evaluate performance can be collected automatically. Here are some examples:

  • driver log for professional truck drivers can track the number of miles that an employee has driven in a certain block of time and provide real-time updates on miles to go and any violations the driver has accrued.
  • Review metrics can report on a customer service agent’s customer-abandonment (hang-up or disconnect) rates as well as hold and total call time. If certain agents are consistently referring calls to a manager, the metrics may show a need for continued training.

To evaluate qualitative (non-numbers-based) goals, consider asking peers in the department to weigh in on an individual’s performance. Using information about how employees feel about their own performance and that of their peers may help identify problem areas, departmental strengths and weaknesses, and other data that doesn’t track easily on a quantitative scale.

Succeeding with a plan

Progress toward a new goal may seem slow, but removing personal preference and other subjective measures from assessments levels the playing field and ensures that the most deserving employees are rewarded.

Danielle M. studies marketing and supply chain management at the Kelley School of Business in Indianapolis, IN. She is a firm believer of Lean Manufacturing principles and lives for standardized processes. In her spare time she blogs about local music and takes care of her puppy Elwood.


The Product Management Perspective: The SMART system will help you manage your products more effectively. The more specific you are about your products’ goals, the better your team members will understand their role. Focus not only on building great products, but also on ways you can measure your progress more accurately.

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