Every leader knows that people create the bottom line, and that getting the entire workforce committed to goals is the best way to move a business forward.

This basic 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.

It can be agreed, therefore, that the best way to achieve a goal 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 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 is difficult 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 to 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.

In fact, one study showed that only 13% of surveyed employees feel their goals will help maximise 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 bigger issue is that employees are sometimes expected to set SMART goals without concern for the objectives of the company.

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

Thus the employee is tasked with achieving both personal goals and corporate goals. 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:

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 in a more manageable and focused way.

These are briefly outlined below:

1. Focus on the Wildly Important

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

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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 Score Board

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 what the overall aim is, helping to keep everyone on target and determined to succeed.

On a typical sales floor, this might be implemented via a simple white board.

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, need to be able and willing to try something new to achieve something out of the ordinary.

Often, this discipline involves the use of 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 than this can cause teams to divert away from the primary, wildly important goals as identified in discipline 1.

SMART Goals and Disciplines

Nobody is suggesting 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, something that might be restricted under a sole SMART goal structure.

And by limiting everyone in the workplace to the same one or two goals, it ensures that everyone has a clear view of the overall company strategy and the role they play 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 is the Managing Director of Notable, a B2B lead generation provider in Singapore. Notable helps companies connect with prospective clients looking for their services.