If you've ever been to a leadership workshop or time-management seminar, chances are you've heard all about goal setting. And along with goal setting comes the sacred cow of today's work culture: SMART goals!
To review, a SMART goal is a goal that is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely. Isn't it lovely how that spells "SMART"? I'll bet you feel all warm and fuzzy inside already.
Here's the bad news: SMART goal setting sounds good in theory and is touted by experts everywhere as the best practice framework for goal setting, but the reality is, you've been duped. SMART are more likely to set you up for failure. And why is that?
SMART goals encourage you to focus on activities rather than outcomes.
When you set SMART goals, you are focusing on a specific thing that you want to happen. Maybe it's to increase sales by 10%. Maybe it's to hire 3 new employees. Maybe it's to acquire that big client you've been working on for months. This is all fine and good, but how does this goal relate to the overall mission of your organization?
Here's another example that might be a bit more fun. If you heard "Everyone meet me at 9:00am tomorrow morning – we’re going on a vacation!" what would your first question be? It’s obvious: you need to know where you’re going so that you can perform the activities necessary and pack the right clothing and supplies to prepare for a successful vacation. Or do you?
Here’s how you might get ready for "vacation" using the SMART goals framework: Imagine you’re in a Logistics department. Let’s create your SMART goal around "packing for vacation." ￼￼￼
- ￼Specific: I will pack (shorts, t-shirts, swim suit, sunscreen and flip-flops)
- Measurable: I will pack in a 24” suitcase, less than 50 lbs
- Achievable: I have the means and ability to accomplish this task
- Relevant: We’re going on a trip so this is an important activity: packing
- Timely: I will have my task completed by 10pm tonight so I’m ready for action!
Now you feel as if you’ve successfully achieved your SMART goal -- that is, if Hawaii is the destination or outcome. But you lose because the destination is Vail, Colorado to snowboard. You’ve packed the wrong things! Now your performance in Vail is sub-par. You’re busy running around shopping for warm clothes, snowboard equipment and the like. You’ve also wasted a whole suitcase on beach clothes, so you now have to buy another suitcase to carry your new purchases.
Now you’re wasting time AND resources.
Even though you established a "reasonable" set of SMART goals -- that were even aligned with the outcome of vacation -- you weren’t crystal clear about the outcome. Leaving out one small piece (the destination) resulted in an experience that put you at the bottom of the heap. Nevertheless, you worked just as hard and met every one of your SMART goals!
Wow. Now just imagine this happening all over your organization. Say 10, 100, 500, 5,000 people on teams doing lots of activities (working hard!) that may or may not be heading in the right direction. But they’ve achieved their SMART goals! Check!
So how do we get everyone on the same page and point toward a common destination?
We do it by shifting our focus to outcome-based goals. By focusing on outcomes (i.e. destinations) first, we get everyone on the time aligned toward a common goal first.
Ask yourself: does everyone on your team or in your organization know what ultimate outcome you are trying to achieve? You probably won’t find it in the vision or mission statement – which shouldn’t come as a surprise, since that’s what the people at the top probably handed down.
Outcome-based goal-setting gets everyone aligned first. This way, creating measurable results is effective and achievable. This framework is outcome-based thinking, and generates an environment where performance is managed on a continuous basis. That means all the time, not just at the yearly performance review meeting.
So next time someone tells you that you need to be setting SMART goals, take a step back and make sure you start with the right destination. Otherwise you might end up on the beautiful slopes of Colorado with nothing but shorts and t-shirts in your suitcase!