When it comes to setting goals and assessing your progress toward achieving them, be smart about how you use metrics and what you pay attention to. Not SMART.\n\nMetrics have always been a key facet of gauging a business area\u2019s accomplishments, be it IT, accounting, operations, or anywhere else. That\u2019s never been more true than today. And as existing metrics constantly lose their relevance to C-suite goals, new metrics continually arise to take their place.\n\nThere\u2019s no escaping them, so you might as well be smart about how you define and use them, especially when it comes to setting goals for both business and IT.\n\nWhy SMART isn\u2019t so smart\n\nFor business and IT leaders setting goals for their organizations, SMART is a popular framework. It stands for \u201cSpecific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.\u201d You shouldn\u2019t stand for it.\n\nUnderstand, there\u2019s nothing particularly wrong with being specific, although given a choice, being clear matters more.\n\nBeing achievable? Okay, I\u2019ll go for that one. After all, why on earth would anyone set a goal that isn\u2019t achievable? That\u2019s just pretending, and pretending isn\u2019t a good way to run any operation.\n\nRelevant? This is a case of a criterion being necessary but not sufficient. When it comes to achieving, say, a business strategy, all goals must be relevant \u2014 they must be consistent with the strategy or they are, to use a too-excitable word, insubordinate.\n\nBut they\u2019d better be more than merely relevant or they aren\u2019t good enough. Individual goals must, when combined, achieve the strategy. Merely being consistent just doesn\u2019t get the job done.\n\nTime bound? That\u2019s one of those criteria that is sometimes a good idea but sometimes exactly wrong. When the goal corresponds to a tangible work product, a deadline makes all kinds of sense. But when steady progress is what\u2019s called for, a deadline can be counterproductive. So set \u201ctime-bound\u201d aside as a maybe.\n\nThat leaves measurability. When it comes to SMART goals, it is, as is so often the case, the measurable part that gets managers into trouble. That\u2019s because it frequently runs afoul of one of Lewis\u2019s Laws of Metrics: Anything you don\u2019t measure you don\u2019t get.\n\nMeasurability\u2019s slippery slope\n\nThere\u2019s nothing subtle about this. Think for a moment about what makes the business you support successful or, if not entirely successful, at least surviving. With very few exceptions, the business depends on one or more of three factors: (1) superior products; (2) excellent customer experiences; or (3) lower prices than its competitors.\n\nYou can measure the difference between your prices and your competitors\u2019 prices without much difficulty. With few quibbles worth worrying about, price competitiveness is easily measured and has been ever since someone first explained that \u201cGimbels shops Macy\u2019s and Macy\u2019s shops Gimbels.\u201d\n\nMeasuring product competitiveness is a far different and far more difficult matter. Measuring the excellence of your customers\u2019 experiences is harder yet.\n\nWhich means that if the executive team buys into the SMART goal formulation, your business will inevitably and inexorably find itself competing on price, price, and only price, because price competitiveness is the only goal that passes the SMART test. And as your business slides down this WD-40-coated slope, it will put itself on an irreversible customer alienation trajectory, eschewed by every potential customer willing to pay for better products and outstanding service.\n\nThe invisibility index\n\nEven if you avoid the SMART formulation, the underlying issue is the same. Take out measurability, substitute \u201cpays attention to,\u201d and very little changes: Anything nobody pays attention to doesn\u2019t get done.\n\nAnd in case the point isn\u2019t clear, \u201cpay attention to\u201d includes a few requirements of its own. In no particular order, management isn\u2019t paying attention if a business function doesn\u2019t get:\n\nBudget: A lesson too many businesses failed to learn following IT\u2019s successful resolution of the Y2 crisis 20+ years ago is that if you want important work to get done you need to be willing to pay for it. And for those whose memories don\u2019t extend that far back, no, the Y2K issue wasn\u2019t a fraud. It was very real. IT\u2019s mistake was addressing it too well, resulting in a phenomenon well-known in risk management circles, namely, that successful prevention is indistinguishable from absence of risk.\n\nRecognition: I have, from time to time, proposed the creation of an \u201cinvisibility index\u201d for gauging IT Operations\u2019 level of success. It\u2019s an essential metric, because, as stated, anything you don\u2019t measure you don\u2019t get.\n\nWith IT Operations, invisibility is what the function\u2019s leader tries to achieve, because nobody notices IT Operations except when something goes wrong.\n\nAs a general rule, businesses use metrics as an alternative to paying attention to something. A CEO might be on a first-name basis with every sales manager, and listen to their ideas on how effective the sales function truly is, and on the barriers to making it even more effective.\n\nEven if that same CEO can identify the IT Operations manager when they\u2019re in the same room, should they find themselves in an actual conversation any interest the CEO expresses in what\u2019s really going on and what\u2019s needed is probably feigned. Should the CEO have any questions about how well the function is doing there\u2019s a service level report to reference.\n\nImagine the impact should that same CEO call the head of IT Operations to express appreciation for the seventh consecutive month of perfect invisibility \u2026 or, following a disconcerting outage, to express confidence and ask if IT Operations is getting the support it needs.\n\nOrganizational listening: An organization\u2019s knowledge, experience, and judgment extend far beyond the executive suite and management layers. In large organizations, while executives provide guidance and managers know how they want work to get done, it\u2019s the line employees \u2014 the ones who do the work \u2014 who know how work actually happens.\n\nRecognizing this fact puts metrics into its proper place in the broader realm of organizational listening \u2014 aka knowing What\u2019s Going On Out There. When it comes to paying attention, walking around or the virtual-workforce equivalent, coupled with employee roundtables, do more than give executives and managers information they separately need. These two organizational-listening tools also deliver a message that those engaging in them are paying attention.\n\nBad metrics are worse than no metrics\n\nIn the wise words of Mark Twain, it ain\u2019t what you don\u2019t know that gets you into trouble. It\u2019s what you do know that ain\u2019t so. Bad metrics are what you do know that ain\u2019t so. So when it comes to metrics, yes, it is important to use them. But it\u2019s even more important to avoid placing too much reliance on them.