I think I’m done with S.M.A.R.T. Goals. 

It’s the time of year now when so many of us are in a frenzy over setting and writing annual goals for ourselves or our staffs.

You remember those SMART goals don’t you?  Goals that you set, according to the formula,  should be;

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Timely


Yeah OK; got it.

It’s not that there is something terribly wrong with SMART goals; the tenets are solid.   It’s more that I’m not sure SMART goals go far enough in reflecting what drives real people and real business anymore.  It’s more that SMART goals may not be…smart anymore.

For 30 years (yep, in 1981 this formula first appeared) SMART Goals have served us well.  But it’s time for a needed upgrade.  The world is in a different place.  And people are in a different place.  

So before you put those final touches on the SMART goal setting sheets you have proliferating your desks and email boxes, have a look at what I think is a better way.  

S.M.I.L.E Goals  

Strength Focused:  No one person will ever be perfect.  And no one person typically has as many weaknesses as strengths, yet much of our goal setting is often focused on goals  that “fix” a problem or weak area.   But what if all of your annual goals were focused on taking your greatest strengths and either applying them more or making them stronger? Where would we be?  Let’s say you are great at networking.  Set a SMILE goal to build a seminar on that topic where you are required to teach others. What if you are great at floor coaching?  Set a Smart goal that has you delegate many of your other tasks to staff or colleagues so you can do significantly more floor coaching.    Strength Focused goals get you to do more of what you do well.  That’s smart.

Modifiable:  This tenet is the acknowledgement of the age old “elephant in the room” in that many goals written at the beginning of the year are often by the end of the year, ridiculously irrelevant.  Every December from my staff, I usually get two lists; one list that is all the evidence and data to support the SMART goals we set on paper a year before and the other list is called “Accomplishments”.  Rarely do the two match.  Sad.  You could say that that reflects on poor goal setting on my part but often you would be very wrong.  Stuff happens.  Stuff changes.  Business happens.   Business changes.  In the space of a week or a month, your initiatives and priorities could be yesterday’s news.   Often your SMART goals set in February are meaningless by June because you are working on things completely different, more needed or more important.   Modifiable allows you to edit, amplify or delete.  That’s smart.

Inspectable: There’s a difference between measurable and inspect-able.   Measurable is measurable.  Inspect-able is measurable but transparent.  You have stakeholders be they your customers, your boss, your team or your shareholders and inspect-able brings a higher level of trust when it comes to measuring.  Trust I contend, is far more important today in business, than it was in 1981.  Post your goal metrics on the shop wall, in your cubicle or at your desk.  SMILE goals should be ones that don’t require 4 hours of data collection each quarter and a 1 our meeting with your boss to see how you are progressing “so far”.  Inspectable makes it easy to see how you are doing.  Inspectable goals show you have nothing to hide.  That’s smart.

Learning Focused:  If you are not learning you are dying.  Goals to achieve are fine. Goals to achieve that don’t reflect learning or growth are not.  You can do both.  You must do both.  More than ever, landscapes in business change at speeds that make even the hardest working the brightest folks cringe.  It’s hard to keep up, but we must.  In fact, keeping up is just table stakes now and keeping ahead is what is truly needed.  Achieve those numbers yes, but SMILE goals must have an aspect that force you to continuously and consciously learn from that achievement and position you for more success in an ever more complex business world.  Learning focused gives goal setting a leading edge.   That’s smart.

Enduring:  If I had a dollar for every time I forgot what my SMART goals were for the year I’d be rich.  If I had a dollar for every time I and my staff forgot what their individual SMART goals were I’d be filthy rich.   You know it’s true.  Goals are often either “the same every year” (hit forecasted quota plan of….), or “breathtakingly boring” (manage expenses within a budget of….).  Take the expected stuff out of the goal setting and do it the SMILE way.  Create goals that endure, that people remember and that will stick:  “Land face to face meetings with 2 fortune 500 companies by the end of Q2…”, “Create a video campaign that generates viral buzz with 5 digit visits and link backs from 2 of these 15 influential bloggers..” or “Make the pain of the customers from brand ABC as they transition to brand XYZ go away by the end of Q1…”.  You get the idea.  Enduring makes it easier to remember, easier to focus and easier to succeed.  That’s smart.

S.M.I.L.E goals reflect a truer reality of the human and business condition; i.e. what drives people and what really happens (and is needed) in the business world.   SMART goals aren’t something I’d necessarily throw away.   They are a decent formula but my advice is you should use them only if you start with a SMILE.

Till next time,

Grow The Business.