Do Your SMART Goals Get Stupid?

SkyeTeam Leadership Development

Last week I started a discussion on SMART goals. There’s no doubt in my mind that specific, high (stretch) goals lead to a higher level of task performance than do easy goals or vague, abstract goals such as the exhortation to ”do your best.” So long as a person is committed to the goal, has the requisite ability to attain it, and does not have conflicting goals, there is a positive, linear relationship between goal difficulty and task performance.

Unfortunately I’ve seen people who get so bogged down in writing and setting SMART goals, that they lose sight of what really matters. This is when SMART goals can get stupid.

When SMART Goals Get Stupid

The SMART system forces people to translate vague aspirations into concrete plans. Former GE CEO Jack Welch claims that his insistence on SMART goals was one of the reasons the company’s stock more than tripled in eight years. Yet some divisions never seemed to excel and would have irregular results.

The problem is one of human nature: it is so satisfying to complete goals that people will write down trivial goals that are easily accomplished. People become obsessed with achievable but inconsequential goals, and focus on unimportant short-term objectives rather than more ambitious plans.

I’ve seen it, performance management goals that say “Attend meetings with my manager” or “answer customer questions”. Vague goals, with vague results or benefits.

Leadership IQ, a training and research company, studied 4,182 employees from 397 companies and found that just 15 percent of those surveyed strongly agreed that their goals would help them achieve great things. Only 13 percent of workers strongly agreed that their goals would help them maximize their full potential.

So what goes wrong when people are setting and achieving goals, but aren’t on track for what truly matters in their life and career? How can we avoid the pitfalls of SMART goals gone astray?

That’s the focus of my next post. I’d love to hear from you.