If there’s one thing in business that gets woefully mishandled, misused and short-changed, it’s the good old-fashioned objective. And within the field of compliance - and QHSE specifically – things are no different.
More often than not, objectives are big, flabby and non-specific. Poorly written, they relate only tangentially to the organisation’s business plan. They hide in filing cabinets, unseen and unloved by senior management, employees or customers. They are brought out for a viewing once a year, but because of their inherent faults, it’s a depressing, demotivating exercise. Tick the box, update the year, rinse and repeat.
Such a shame.
As QHSE compliance professionals, we need to lavish time and attention on developing our objectives.
Objectives have the potential to be extremely powerful instruments. They keep us on task. They should directly link us to the organisation’s business plan, putting us at the centre of things instead of, as so often happens, on the periphery.
Meeting objectives gives us a professional and personal boost, but failing to meet them does even more - it provides us with valuable data about the state of our projects and/or system, and the evidence with which to justify changing it.
So how to write them?
As much as I like the rationale behind judging objectives using SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound), in this real world populated by mere mortals I have seen little evidence that using SMART results in anything other than frustration and a general tying oneself up in knots.
My other bugbear is that most managers don’t incorporate arguably the most valuable addition to SMART, namely ER (evaluation and re-evaluation). Twenty years of auditing has shown me that really smart objectives follow 3 simple rules…
- The best objectives are project based. This contrasts with the majority of objectives which are a general, vague annual wishlist of bits and pieces. Project-based objectives are tight and focussed because they relate directly to the task at hand. And because your projects should directly flow from the business plan, we have – drum roll please – instant alignment with the bigger organisational picture.
- Small objectives are better than big ones – Break down your projects into small, bite-sized chunks. Anyone familiar with the philosophy of kaizen knows that small is usually best because change is best done in small increments - frightening the horses is unnecessary and generally not to be recommended unless you’re in crisis mode. While the steps may be small, there are many of them over the course of a year. That’s how progress is made, folks - one step at a time.
- Results are evaluated at project’s end – If your objectives are project-based and small, then checking them at the end of each project is both do-able and enlightening. Your mental state undergoes a transformation too – the overwhelming grey cloud hanging over you the whole year dissipates, replaced by the nimble footwork of someone working and thinking in the now. Taking a look back at the project you’ve just completed, looking at what worked and what didn’t, is both vital and interesting. It’s the mark of a person who is engaged, learning and not hiding from anything – in other words, the mark of a good manager.
Think carefully about your compliance objectives, don't over-engineer them and make sure they're aligned to the 'bigger picture'.