The dumbing down of SMART goals

I have a goal – I want to be healthier, and maybe lose a few pounds. But that’s not a SMART goal. I need to make it Specific – maybe I’ll start eating more fruits and vegetables. That’ll work. Measurable, hmm… I’ll eat the recommended 5 servings a day. Achievable – make that 4 servings a day. Relevant? Yes, eating more fruits and vegetables is part of a healthier diet and can help with weight loss. Timely. I need to set a deadline. It takes 21 days to make a habit, so I’ll do this for 21 days, and then I’ll be in the habit of eating healthier. But I should reward myself for fulfilling this goal. How about, if I eat my 4 servings of fruits and veggies for 21 days, I’ll treat myself to a well-deserved hot fudge sundae. Perfect.

Days 1 – 3, easy. Lots of salad, peaches are in season, this will be a breeze. By day 5, this salad for lunch is getting pretty boring. But I really want to earn that hot fudge sundae. I’ll add some croutons, and maybe some ranch dressing. I’m still getting all the nutrition from the vegetables, right? Broccoli is getting bland, but a little cheese sauce, maybe some hollandaise, and I’m good to go. Wrap those Brussels sprouts in bacon, and by day 21, I’ve done it! I’ve met my SMART goal and I’ve earned my hot fudge sundae.

Am I really eating healthier? I doubt I’ve lost any weight.

Does this sound like your employees’ annual goals? In our quest take our strategic vision and create SMART goals, many organizations have lost sight of the vision altogether. When we start requiring goals and forget about vision, especially when meeting goals is tied to reviews and merit increases or bonuses, then goal setting becomes all about ensuring we get that hot fudge sundae.

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I saw a meme recently that read: “Without a plan, a goal is just a wish”. I want to turn that idea upside down. The reality is, without a vision, a goal is just a to-do list. Do your employees know why you require goals? Does leadership know? Do you? Or are goals just another box to check in the performance review process?

I happened to tell a friend I was writing on this topic, and she was shocked. She had honestly never heard that her goals should be tied to anything. They are just something she has to do every quarter for a good performance review and a raise.

It’s goal season here in my organization, and we’re doing a lot of work to make our goals more meaningful (a future post will go into more detail). What I really want to see, more than just SMART, are goals that, if achieved, will have a meaningful impact on employees’ careers and the success of our organization. If goals can do that, they really are smart.

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