Achieving results by being SMART

skyeteam leadership development

It seems like we are all SMART, the acronym is endemic in business, appearing in practically every performance management training seminar, project management process and goal setting approach. The intent is good, by applying SMART to how we write our goals should ensure we are very clear about what is required and the measure of success.

To ensure we are on the same page, SMART stands for:

  • Specific (Goals are clear and unambiguous)
  • Measurable (Results must be able to be measured in some way)
  • Attainable (Goals must be realistic and attainable by the average employee)
  • Relevant (Goals must connect to and support the team and company goals/strategy)
  • Time-bound (Goals must have defined start and end points)

Using the SMART system makes it easier to stay on track and accomplish key success factors. There are a couple of variants; the idea is that setting specific objectives along with details for completion ensures that goals are realistic, measurable, and achievable within a required time frame.

Not everyone has success using SMART goals, as I’ve seen with some of my clients. There can be problems with using the SMART goal-setting system. When do SMART goals fail? When people rush toward decisions simply because they have a high need for closure, missteps are more likely to happen.

In the rush to check a goal off a list, some of us make mistakes such as denying, misinterpreting, or suppressing information that is inconsistent with the requirements for a task. When overly focused on feeling productive, one can become blind to details that should give pause.

To many people, it can feel so good to achieve a goal that they are unwilling to sacrifice the pleasure of satisfaction even when it is clearly a mistake. They will ignore indications that the outcome may not contribute to desired results.

Personalities and the Need for Closure

Researchers at the University of Maryland published a test in 1994 designed to measure a personality trait known as “the need for cognitive closure.” People with a high degree of this trait have a strong desire for a confident judgment on an issue– any confident judgment– as compared to feeling confusion and ambiguity.

Most people have a mixed need for personal organization, decisiveness, and predictability. About 20 percent of people score high on this personality trait measure. While personal organization and self-discipline are seen as qualities of leadership, a rush to achieve completion on a goal can override common sense. SMART goals work well because they are specific, time-bound, and give structure toward end results. But for some, goal achievement itself can cause people to lose sight of the right outcomes.

The problem with SMART goals is that they just haven’t kept up with the pace of business. SMART goals, especially when used in performance management, tend to be written at the start of the year with the intent that they will last for a full 12 months. I don’t know about you, but the rate of change most organizations and teams experience mean that many goals need to be adjusted or changed every quarter.

Next week I’ll share my thoughts on when SMART goals can be stupid! in the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the following:

  • What happens when you set up goals?
  • Do you specify SMART criteria?
  • Do you have a high need for closure?