Why Smart Goals Don’t Work and What to Do Instead

Why Smart Goals Don’t Work and What to Do Instead

Do you remember SMART goals?  I was introduced to the concept early in my career.  Smart goals are specific, measurable, agreed upon, realistic, and time bound.  Unfortunately, they’re also usually horrifically boring and uninspiring.

The SMART goal concept isn’t bad in theory.  A SMART goal is better than no goal or a vague goal.  But if you limit yourself to SMART goals, you’ll limit your thinking.

That’s because SMART goals tend to be task-oriented.  Like do the marketing report every week and do it exactly this way.  Smart goals tend to be things assigned by your boss.  Unfortunately, accomplishing only these types of tasks, results in you playing small.  Breakthrough accomplishments and leadership requires more than what’s asked of you; it requires you to set strategic goals for yourself.
Putting a man on the moon didn’t start with a smart goal.  It started with a big idea.  Smart goals pushed the process forward, but they weren’t the initial jumping off point.

In business, we bandy about words like objectives, goals, and strategy so much we’re often not clear on what the words mean.  To provide clarity, let’s unpack the difference between accomplishing tasks, versus setting strategic goals.

Strategic goals are bigger, more complex, they require more than just checking the box that you did it.  Let’s look at a few examples.

A strategic goal might be something like:

Improve my ability as a leader.

Increase organizational innovation.

Accelerate our competitive differentiation in the market.

Strategic goals require creativity; they’re a mix of dreaming and practicality.  Now let’s look at a few tasks:

Fill out time cards on time.

Reach out to new customers every 30 days.

Ensure brand consistency in new materials.

Tasks are short term.

For example, if you’re in sales, and you want to attract more new clients, tasks that support your goal may be sending 10 prospecting emails everyday.

Success depends on your ability to manage both the strategic and the tactical.  If you simply focus on tasks, you’ll stay in a reactionary mode.  Leaders need to be proactive.  Strategic thinking is about looking into the future, and deciding where you want to place your attention.  It’s about what you say yes to, and even more important, what you say no to.

When you’re setting strategic goals for yourself, focus on two things:

  1. Impact. How can you accomplish personal, departmental, or organizational objectives?  How will individuals be different as the result of you accomplishing your goals?  You don’t have to know exactly how you will accomplish or even measure a goal when you start.  But you need to fully understand the impact you want to have.  If your goal is low-impact, it’s not a good goal for you.
  2. Engagement. This one is the kicker.  We can make all the SMART goals in the world, but if no one is personally bought into the goals, the possibility of accomplishing them is slim to none.  Think about why you care about this goal.  Think about why it matters to you.  When you face an obstacle or challenge, are you personally motivated enough to overcome it?  If you care passionately, it’s a good goal.  If you can’t get fired up about it, find something else.

You don’t need to spell out every detail of a goal to start making progress.  Part of learning is adjusting as you go.  Smart goals are a great way to implement, but for inspiration, you need to think even bigger.

 

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Sales Leadership expert Lisa Earle McLeod created the “Noble Purpose” concept and strategy after her research revealed that organizations driven by a Noble Purpose outperformed the market by over 350%. Her bestselling book, Selling with Noble Purpose, has been a game changer at global firms like Flight Centre, Google, Hootsuite, and Roche.

McLeod is the Sales Leadership expert for Forbes.com. She has appeared on the NBC Nightly News, the Today Show, Oprah.com and Good Morning America.