Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Performance challenges in the City of Dreams

My own presentation at the HR Strategies conference focused on moving beyond standards and SMART objectives in performance management to helping people express their dreams.

I think we need to do this if we're going to move beyond gaining compliance to really harnessing our people's commitment towards helping our organisations succeed.

The more we can capture what’s important to our people, and align what they really, really want to do, and what their organisation is giving them the opportunity to do, the more engaged they’re going to be, and the higher the contribution they’re going to make.

I got some of these ideas from an excellent book, Dream Manager by Matthew Kelly (hat tip to the Cranky Middle Manager).

A character in this book describes the power of dreams as:

"I think we've forgotten that people are people. At Wal-Mart they call them 'associates', at McDonald's they call them 'crew members', at Starbucks they are 'partners,' at Disney they call them 'cast members,' here we call them 'team members,' and at most places they just get called 'employees' or 'staff.' But in all of this, we've forgotten that first and foremost they're people.

What sets people apart? People are unique in that they have the ability to imagine a more abundant future, to hope for that future, and to take proactive steps to create that future. This is the process of proactive dreaming. Isn't that the story of all great individuals, families, teams, corporations, and nations?"

In many ways, we are our dreams. But people stop dreaming because they get caught up in the hustle and bustle of surviving. And once we stop dreaming, we start to lead lives of quiet desperation, and little by little the passion and energy begin to disappear from our lives."


Unlike SMART objectives, dreams need to come from the individual themselves, based upon their own skills, experiences, interests and motivations, rather than as some sort of generic human resource. And rather than building incremental improvements on the current state, theses goals are focused on what might be possible in the future.

Yes, many organisations already give people stretch goals, and ask people for their participation in setting them – these aren’t always just imposed from the top of the organisation. But the focus in dreams is totally different – it’s on the person first and the stretch isn’t just an extension on their goals, but comes from a totally different way of setting them.

Of course, the dreams that are selected to be included in performance management need to be beneficial for the organisation too. But they're primarily about the individual, as an individual, and what they might be able to do, that would support the organisation, if they were to achieve their dreams.

Dream goals are not SMART. They can’t be as it is impossible to know the extent of the transformation that a particular person might achieve, but they can be directional (for example bus using the verbs ‘improve’ or ‘maximise’), or set within a broad range. Alternatively they can be qualitative and deliberately ambiguous.

So, instead of SMART, I suggest an alternative acronym: MUSIC (see my previous post on this).


At the conference, I was asked whether this approach is realistic in a hierarchical society like the UAE. I think it is, in fact I think it is critical as well.

Agrabah may be the original 'city of dreams', but Dubai is where dreams are being made into reality. But no matter how successful the city's development has been to date, it surely can't go on expanding at its present rate unless it maximises the potential contribution of all of its people, local and expat. It will only be able to live its own dreams if it helps its people meet their dreams too.


The other main challenge was that people don't know how to dream. I think this is tragic if it's true - and will certainly lead to Kelly's life of quiet desperation. But actually, I don't think it is true. I believe everyone can dream, and its a skill that can easily become a habit. This is why I wanted to use the scenarios we didn't have time to do - to show the level of energy that's created when we discuss our dreams.