If S.M.A.R.T Works, Aren’t You Achieving Goals?

By Matthew Murray

Updated Over a Week Ago

Minute Read

Every leader knows that people achieving goals creates the bottom line. Getting the entire workforce committed to goals is the best way to move a business forward.

This fundamental principle has been explored for decades by business professionals all over the globe, with many systems being introduced, from Edwin Locke’s ‘Goal-setting theory of motivation’ to George T. Doran’s SMART Goals.

Therefore, it can be agreed that the best way to start achieving goals is to implement a strategy to make that happen.

The question is, why do some of the best, well-known strategies like S.M.A.R.T fail sometimes?

It’s easy enough to come up with a goal, but could the way goals are set to play a part in the success or failure of a project? And how can these rules be applied to all types of business?

Do S.M.A.R.T Goals Work?

It isn’t easy to find someone who hasn’t heard of a SMART goal or implemented one into their work, study, or personal life at some point.

As a reminder, a smart goal should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time Orientated.

In theory, this system covers all angles, helping any goal become a reality quickly and efficiently.

Critics of the SMART goal system have outlined at least one problem – insisting that if a goal is ‘realistic’ and ‘achievable,’ a premise is set that that goal should also be mediocre.

Asking a sales team to be realistic about their goals might encourage average performance, whereas setting goals that are seemingly not achievable might enhance ability and drive.

One study showed that only 13% of surveyed employees feel their goals will help maximize their potential. This, in itself, could be a barrier to achieving goals in the first place. But that’s not the only problem highlighted with this iconic and regularly embedded set of principles.

A more significant issue is that employees are sometimes expected to set SMART goals without concern for the company’s objectives.

Yes, in theory, goals set by the individual should support and drive more comprehensive company initiatives. But when making SMART goals, the individual isn’t tasked with considering what the company wants to achieve.

Thus the employee is tasked with achieving goals, both personal and corporate. And in many cases, they are overwhelmed with objectives that sometimes have few points of commonality.

This leads even the most experienced businessperson to lose track, give up, or get it wrong.

One system, however, addresses this:

Writing and Achieving Goals

The Four Disciplines of Execution

The bestselling book The Four Disciplines of Execution, by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey, and Jim Huling, promotes four steps to setting and seeing through goals more manageable and focused.

These are briefly outlined below:

1. Focus on the Wildly Important

People are usually wired to only focus on one thing at a time, so goals need to reflect this concept.

There is no point in giving one individual seven separate goals and expecting them to use SMART objectives to meet them. One or two goals should be set and become everyone’s sole focus.

2. Create a Compelling Scoreboard

People play differently when they’re keeping score. Adding a competitive and measurable edge to an activity gives everyone better drive, similar to how football players perform differently in a serious match in comparison to a friendly kick-around with friends.

A scoreboard in any format should include data on where you are now and the overall aim, helping to keep everyone on target and determined to succeed.

This might be implemented via a simple whiteboard on a typical sales floor.

3. Translate Lofty Goals into Specific Actions

To achieve goals you’ve never achieved before, you need to do things you’ve never done before.

Everyone on the team, from the senior leaders to the front-line staff, needs to be able and willing to try something new to achieve something out of the ordinary.

Often, this discipline involves creativity, honest communication, and a brand of courage that allows an individual to work productively outside their comfort zone.

4. Hold Each Other Accountable – Always

Everyone on the team must hold all members accountable all the time. This crucial discipline might seem obvious, but so often, team members don’t take responsibility for themselves or feel able to hold others accountable for their actions.

A weekly meeting can help bridge gaps in communication and ensure everyone knows what needs to be done. Meetings with less regularity can cause teams to divert away from the primary, wildly important goals identified in discipline 1.

SMART Goals and Achieving Goals

Nobody suggests that SMART goals should be ditched for an entirely new way of working. But it is important to remember that Discipline 3 of The Four Disciplines of Execution asks an employee to think big and reach further, which might be restricted under a sole SMART goal structure.

And limiting everyone in the workplace to the same one or two goals ensures that everyone has a clear view of the overall company strategy and their role within that.

How Should We Work With S.M.A.R.T Goals?

If you have ideas you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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Matthew Murray
Matthew Murray
Matthew Murray is the Managing Director of Notable, a B2B lead generation provider in Singapore. Notable helps companies connect with prospective clients looking for their services.
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