For the SMART Goal Naysayer


We read an article recently about someone who was against SMART goals.  For those new to this term, these are goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Specific. The author of that article wondered whether SMART goals lead to small dreams, small achievements, utterly predictable outcomes and are for people who are too afraid to wander into the unknown. In our experience leading seminars with thousands of managers and executives around the world, underperformance from small goals is definitely NOT the problem. In our experience, the real problem is that most people were never taught how to really set goals. In four years of college and an MBA, no professor ever taught me this skillset. It wasn’t until becoming a fighter pilot that I truly learned how to develop well-written goals and a plan. We’ve seen the same thing with thousands of managers.

A well-written goal should connect a person to their vision and should be the pathway to achieve it. The problem is that most people only set a “New Year’s Resolution” and hope that things will improve. Here is where I believe the 12 principles of highly successful leaders make all the difference.  

Goals are not a vision, they are the targets or milestones on the pathway to achieving the vision. Goals can break down our wildly ambitious dreams into bit size servings that are more easily digested, thereby applying the pre-emptive antacid to the burn of anxiety and discouragement. It is not uncommon to see our dreams as only dreams, as something we will never actually achieve. However, once a person develops SMART annual goals, suddenly the once “impossible” vision starts to feel within reach.

Many people have professional goals but haven’t really tried written personal goals. In fact, our research shows that less than 10% of people even attempt written personal goals. Yet, once the goal is written, a person is 90% more likely to achieve whatever they developed as a goal.

That’s why the goal should be SMART. The more specific and measurable, the more likely it is to be achieved. For example, we should almost never see the words “more” or “better” in a goal. In addition, the goal should make a person feel slightly uncomfortable; if it’s too far out there most people will find it unachievable, however, if a person reads the goal and doesn’t feel slightly uncomfortable, then odds are it isn’t stretching that person outside of their comfort zone. When a goal is SMART, it gives a person a target so that they can develop a plan. An easy example to illustrate the difference between a New Year’s Resolution and a SMART goal is the following: Get in better shape vs Run a ½ marathon in less than two hours before September 1st. You can see that in the first example, nothing will likely change. In the second example, it’s a clear target so that a person can develop a plan to achieve the goal. Hopefully, that goal aligns with the vision to be fit, healthy, and live a fulfilling life.

I encourage you to start with a vision, write it down as if it is already a reality, and then come up with annual goals that drive you to accomplish what may have seemed impossible.

We have literally seen thousands of people accomplish things they never would have done because they developed a vision and SMART annual goals to achieve the vision.

If you want to change, start with the kind of vision that calls for your very best every day and then use SMART annual goals to help you get there. When SMART goals are tied to vision they lead to big dreams, big achievements, utterly unpredictable outcomes, and are for people who desire to be fearless, make the unknown known, and the uncertain certain!

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