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Ouch! Could Those SMART Goals Be a Dumb Idea?

Most managers are familiar with SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-Bound) goals. In fact, for years they’ve been widely regarded as a sound performance management tool.

But have we been misusing them all this time? According to the results of this Leadership IQ study, that may be the case. Their research showed that:

  • Merely 15% of employees strongly agree that the goals they set will help them achieve great things.
  • Just 13% of employers strongly agree that their goals this year will help them achieve their full potential.

The SMART process may have its place in managing your employees’ performance, but these numbers illustrate their limited value. In a recent Talent Management post, Randy Emelo defines the difference between objectives and goals – and why setting all those SMART goals may actually be a dumb idea:

  • Goals are the ultimate purposes employees are trying to achieve (and are not, he purports, measurable or tangible).
  • Objectives, on the other hand, are the actions employees take that result in attaining a goal. They are measurable and tangible.

The SMART process is, by definition, better suited to guiding objective-setting. Emelo recommends that, instead of getting SMART about performance management, you should be getting REAL (Relevant, Experimental, Aspirational and Learning-based). Here’s a quick overview of each component:

  • Relevant – explain why the development goal is important and worthwhile.
  • Experimental – suggest development activities that will lead to deeper insight.
  • Aspirational – pinpoint areas of growth and development.
  • Learning-based – define outcomes based on capabilities gained.

Identifying and focusing on these aspects of professional development goals make more sense, because they align more closely with the activities and progress assessments integral to performance management.

SMART and REAL Go Hand in Hand

To create a more effective performance management program, try blending these two processes. Use the REAL technique to define overarching professional growth and development goals. Then, create a clear path to achieving each goal with SMART objectives.

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