Why SMART Goals Aren’t So Smart

SMART goals – Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely – are all the rage, but are they smart?

A smart goal is one that will be achieved. And if you want your goals to be achieved, these five SMART factors have several fatal flaws.

First, the SMART factors don’t do much to ensure goals are important to the organization.

“Relevant” is a weak statement of importance. Any goal worth defining and tracking should make a significant impact on the success of the organization.

Second, the SMART factors say nothing about the individual who needs to achieve the goal. You can’t tell me a particular goal is equally smart for any number of different individuals. People are not interchangeable and therefore the goals assigned to them can’t be either.

Third, the SMART factors ignore characteristics that increase the odds that a goal will be achieved. They help managers put good, strong stakes in the ground, but they don’t do much for those who must execute.

Fourth, the SMART factors do little to gain the commitment, another critical component for success.

Thus, it is time to take a new approach. It is time to bring SANITY™ to goal setting. Success is far more likely if you create important goals that will be achieved. Let SANITY™ be your new guide to setting goals.

S stands for Supported. If you don’t support people by providing adequate resources, time, authority, guidance, feedback, and follow-up, they are not likely to achieve their goals. Many a SMART goal has withered on the vine, fed only with wishful thinking and no real support.

A stands for Appropriate. Creating goals that are appropriate for a particular individual’s skill, knowledge, talents, and workload is a significant factor needed for success. Nothing increases productivity and quality more than matching the task to someone with the right capabilities and inclination.

N stands for Negotiable. Success requires commitment and you won’t get commitment if you make demands and leave people feeling they are being set up for failure. This is especially true for stretch goals and situations outside the employee’s full control. However, if you involve the employee in goal setting, make it clear that the point is to excel both individually and collectively (not to punish or pit one against another), and acknowledge that adjustments may be necessary to reflect new information and shifting priorities, employees are much more likely to step up to the challenge and make that critical commitment.

I stands for Important. Don’t establish any goals that aren’t important. Every goal should have a significant positive impact on the organization.

T stands for Tangible. If the employee can visualize nothing but a giant, amorphous mountain of complexity and barriers, success is unlikely. But if the employee can see at least a vague path to the desired destination and a clear, concrete first step, the odds of success increase dramatically. If the first and subsequent steps reveal tangible, concrete next steps, the goal is practically in the bag.

Y stands for Yes. No matter how important you may think a goal is, progress will be minimal unless the implementer believes the goal has value. If the individual can honestly say, “Yes, I understand and I agree that this is very important to me and the company,” you are much more likely to get the commitment and energy that is needed for success.

Well-defined goals are important, which is the intention of SMART. But bring a little SANITY™ to the process if you want to achieve and exceed your goals.