SMART goals (most commonly defined as Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound) have been around for several decades. There isn’t a company in existence that hasn’t set its share of SMART goals. Yet, goal achievement is still very allusive for most people.
There are a variety of reasons SMART goals fail:
Lack of input. Goals are imposed on employees that make them feel they are not part of the goal development process.
Unrealistic goals. Setting goals that you know you cannot reach or having unrealistic goals set for you.
No Time. Many people complain they have no time for goal setting. They are usually so busy dealing with today’s problems that they neglect to anticipate and prevent tomorrows problems.
Wrong things measured. Because it is often difficult to measure the important factors in a job or task, the things that are easy to measure can become the goals, whether or not they make a contribution to success.
Numbers-driven systems. The reward and punishment system becomes so skewed toward whether or not people meet their numbers, that people set lower targets to guarantee that they will reach success.
The paper mill. If the goal setting system requires so much paperwork that it becomes a once-a-year exercise that no one takes it seriously.
Tablets of Stone. Once set, goals become cast in stone. Because there’s no way to adjust them as conditions change, the whole exercise becomes irrelevant to the real direction of the organization.
Analysis paralysis. Some people spend endless hours analyzing their jobs and defining and refining each goal. In the pursuit of perfection, they achieve only frustration.
Lack of periodic review. If goals are not reviewed on a periodic basis, they may no longer be applicable to the current situation. The answer lies in encouraging dialogue and evaluating results along the way.
If you want to set a goal that will inspire people to achieve great things, that goal has to be so vividly described that people can picture how great it will feel to achieve it; they will have to learn new skills to achieve the goal; and the goal will push them out of their comfort zone, among other factors.
A new methodology, called HARD Goals, where the goals should be (a) heartfelt, (b) animated (evoking a picture repeatedly playing in the mind's eye), (c) required and (d) difficult may be more applicable.
HARD goals are:
Heartfelt — My goals will enrich the lives of somebody besides me— customers, the community, etc.
Animated — I can vividly picture how great it will feel when I achieve my goals.
Required — My goals are absolutely necessary to help this company.
Difficult — I will have to learn new skills and leave my comfort zone to achieve my assigned goals for this year.
Well-defined goals are important, which is the intention of SMART. But HARD goals are more likely to drive great achievement than SMART objectives.