Are SMART Goals Stupid?

While I don’t know if I’m “Smarter than a Fifth Grader”, I assumed that I was smarter than a goldfish.  But when I read Contrarian Goldfish’s “Smart Goals are Stupid”, I began to wonder. After all, I wrote about the usefulness of SMART objectives.  So, let’s investigate:

1.    Specific
CG says “you cannot predict the future and you need to be flexible to change course as circumstances change”.
I agree but think that’s missing the point. Objectives are destinations, not paths to get there. If there’s too much traffic on a road, you should be free to try a different street.  And yes, you should have the flexibility to update your objective as execution influences strategy.

2.     Measurable
CG says that the best goals are closely tied to very strong feelings and emotions which you can’t measure.
I think he’s confusing quantitative and qualitative measures.  If you want to know how people feel, ask them.  Surveys can measure lots of things.

3.    Achievable
CG says that “achievable goals will not inspire you, and you will give up because the end result is not motivating enough for you to go the extra mile”.
I say that objectives should have multiple stretch targets over time so that 85% attainment at any given point should be rewarded.

4.    Realistic
CG says “competition is much higher for realistic goals” and that we should stretch for unrealistic ones.
We should definitely set stretch targets (see my comment on Achievable).  However, I think the ‘R’ should be Relevant, as in individual objects should support team and organization objectives.

5.    Time-Bound
CG says “it is more important that you make progress towards your goal each and every day than to set some arbitrary date for achieving your goal”.
Good news.  We agree on one.

Regardless of whether they are SMART or something else, be sure that people understand the objectives before you start measuring them.

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2 Responses to Are SMART Goals Stupid?

  1. Robert E June 10, 2008 at 10:08 pm #

    Even the best tools can be misused if they are misunderstood. When the strategic goals of an organization aren’t clearly understood, it’s easy to misinterpret or just be outright suspicious of SMART measures.
    It just seems to me as if the contrarian is just making excuses. Eric Hoffer said, “For many people, an excuse is better than an achievement because an achievement, no matter how great, leaves you having to prove yourself again in the future; but an excuse can last for life.”


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