Why They Don't Work!
(and a better way)

Before I rubbish SMART goals, let me first recap why goals are so important.

One of the key functions of a leader is to set goals for the team or the followers. Depending on your leadership style you might decide what the goals are, and expect your team to work towards them, or you might discuss the goals with the team and reach an agreement with them.

Whichever approach you use, without goals your people won't know where they are going. Goals give them a destination for their journey. They define your future achievements.

The best leaders are goal-orientated. They keep their eye on the goal at all times. Activities are simply a means to end, one of many possible routes towards the destination. As Steven Covey says, highly effective people, "Start with the end in mind."

But, how do you set goals?

For some years now leaders and managers have been using the system of SMART goals and objectives to help them set targets for themselves and others.

SMART has classically stood for :

S - Specific
M - Measurable
A - Achievable
R - Realistic
T - Timely

Some people have found that SMART goals don't go far enough. SMART tends to lead to mediocre goals.

Achievable and Realistic can merge into one issue, often interpreted as "easy" rather that "within sight if we apply our resources". Timely doesn’t always emphasise that we have a deadline to reach. And Measurable does not always mean that measures are established in advance.

I have developed a new approach to SMART goal setting in an attempt to put right these failings. It still uses SMART, but I call it NewSMART.

S - Stretching
M - Monitored
A - Aspirational
R - Relevant
T - Time limited

Stretching means that goals should be challenging, and take us substantially beyond where we are now.

Monitored means we must be put systems in place to monitor progress towards the goal.

Aspirational means that goals should be motivational, inspiring and worth the effort.

Relevant to the bigger picture, the vision, policy or strategy.

Time limited means that a specific deadline should be stated in the goal itself.

Examples of NewSMART goals are :

  1. By the end of the current calendar year, I will have published an article in a professional journal explaining the Success Cycle. I will monitor progress towards the goal using an action plan that incorporates all the steps and timescales involved. (I did achieve this.)
  2. By the end of October 2010 I will have lost two stone in weight. I will monitor progress by comparing my actual weight against a straight-line curve that shows my start weight at 1st January 200 and my planned weight at 31st October 2010. (I'm working on this one.)

NewSMART goal setting takes a little bit of practice. Start by setting the deadline, "By the end of October 2010, I/we will have ..." Then list the achievement, or outcome, "lost two stone in weight." Note, not the activity, which would have been, "increased daily exercise and reduced food intake." Goals are concerend with end results, not the means of achieving them. Then describe how you will monitor progress, "I will monitor ..."

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