The SMART Goal Myth


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I have been on a leadership course.

I’ve learnt that if I want to improve my team’s performance I must set them all SMART goals. A goal that is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time bound – I bet you’ve been on the same course.

A good SMART goal is something like:

“increase sales rates from 15% to 22% by the end of the year”

It is lovely, crisp and clear. It leaves no doubt or misunderstanding or wriggle room.

Now I am going to stick my neck out here…

I think SMART goals are STUPID

They are:

  • Simplistic: Since when has handing out goals been the number one way to improve performance?
  • Threatening: How does it feel to have your livelihood tied to a target that you don’t know how to meet?
  • Uninspiring: What does being under pressure and control do for your intrinsic motivation?
  • Poisonous: Give someone a goal and they will hit it. Just look what they did for Lloyds Bank.
  • Ineffective: Goals only work if you accept them and are committed to them. There is no C in SMART.
  • Divisive: How do individual goals with individual incentives promote teamwork?

OK, I admit it, my acronym is a bit lame (I struggled with the P), but then SMART is pretty lame as well.

But it is not really the SMART goal that is the problem

It is how we use them that is the problem.

People need a sense of purpose, something they can engage with and feel proud about.

That is not the same as nailing them to the wall to do something they really don’t care about and then berating them about poor performance in their annual review.

Wouldn’t it be better to set a clear destination, somewhere that people wanted to go to, with way-marks, progress checks and the offer of help?

Holding people’s feet to the fire will only get you a lot of burnt toes ~ anon

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Republished with author's permission from original post.

James Lawther
James Lawther is a middle-aged middle manager. To reach this highly elevated position he has worked for many organisations, from supermarkets to tax collectors and has had multiple roles from running a night shift to doing operational research. He gets upset by operations that don't work and mildly apoplectic about poor customer service.


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