Here we are! Summer is winding down, kids are back in school, football is in the air and crisp mornings are telling us that fall is almost here. Mother Nature is about to switch out her palette of brightly colored flowers, grasses and trees for the more muted earth tones that come from the changing foliage. I hear many people say that fall is their favorite time of year. And who can blame them!
In addition to the relief from the heat of summer and the beauty that comes with fall, I have another theory on why we all love fall so much. With fall comes a return to normalcy. We get back into routines. And it gives us a chance to dust off goals and projects that got lost in the busy-ness of summer. It’s similar to New Year’s Resolutions, but without all the hype and dead-of-winter-gloom.
As we refocus our attention on our goals, I thought it would be a good time to talk about the issue I have with SMART Goals. Before I do that, I want to give credit where credit is due. Many of you have probably heard of SMART Goals and possibly used them in planning. It’s been around long enough that we may forget that someone originally coined the phrase and started using it as a framework for goal setting.
SMART Goals are coming upon their 40th birthday this November. Happy Birthday, SMART Goals! George T. Doran is credited with originally writing about the acronym. George was a consultant and Director of Corporate Planning for Washington Water Power Company in Spokane. He published a paper called “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. Way to Write Management’s Goals and Objectives.” You can read the original article here if you would like to continue your history lesson.
In case you are not familiar with this concept, here’s a brief overview. The letters serve as an acronym for five elements that go into setting good goals. The original letters represented the following word/concepts:
- S – Specific = area for improvement
- M – Measurable = quantity or progress indicator
- A – Assignable = who will be accountable
- R – Realistic = reality check on whether the goal is achievable
- T – Timely = when results will be achieved
As with many acronyms, the words have changed a little over time. In this case the two words that have gone through an evolution are the “A” and the “R”. In today’s application the “A” usually stands for Achievable or Attainable. The “R” fluctuates between its original word and Relevant. These are good changes. It has allowed the system to be used in many different areas of life, rather than just applied to the business world.
As for the “R”, I’m fine with either Realistic or Relevant. When coaching a client on their goals, I prefer to use Realistic. It leads to some really good conversations about how the person is going to make their goal a reality in their life and how the changes will fit with everything else they have going on.
The problem I have is really with the “A”. Set right in the middle of the acronym, it has so much potential! Unfortunately, all the words that have been assigned to the “A” fall short of really helping people reach their goals. Let me give you an example.
The Problem with the “A”
I’m going to use weight loss, because it’s an example many people can relate to. If I want to lose weight I can set a SMART Goal that states something like this:
I will lose 5 pounds in the next 8-weeks.
This statement fulfills all the requirements of the SMART system:
- S – Specific = area for improvement = lose weight
- M – Measurable = quantity or progress indicator = 5 pounds
- A – Assignable = who will be accountable = me!
- R – Realistic = reality check on whether the goal is achievable = definitely achievable
- T – Timely = when results will be achieved = 8-weeks
Do you see the problem? Nothing changes by simply stating that I’m going to lose 5 pounds in 8-weeks. Wishful thinking will not make this goal happen. Even if you change to the more modern “A” words. The goal is achievable and attainable, but it’s still missing something.
We need some movement or change in order to reach our goals. We need to do something different than what we’ve been doing. Otherwise everything stays the same. The evolution of SMART Goals acronym that needs to happen next, is the “A” needs to become Action. What is the Action that is going to lead to the outcomes we want?
In the example above, adding action makes all the difference. And the more specific, the better:
I will lose 5 pounds in the next 8-weeks, by riding the exercise bike 4 days a week for 30-minutes, and eliminating late-night snacking.
This is a goal that I can hold myself accountable to! I am crystal clear on the behaviors I will be changing in order to reach my goal. As far as the words we are sacrificing, Achievable and Attainable are both addressed when we consider whether or not the goal is Realistic. This new structure gives people the power to create goals that will take them where they want to go.
As you pull out your sweaters and sip on your pumpkin spice treat, consider what a great time this is to refocus on your goals. Hold them up against this new SMART system and make sure they include the Action that will move you forward.
I love helping people clarify, strategize, and achieve their goals. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a free 30-minute discovery call if you are interested in setting and reaching your goals!
Kim is a mom, wife, lover of being active and the outdoors,
and helper of small businesses, nonprofits and leaders.