Thursday, February 16, 2012

SMART v. 1.0, Attainable Goals

There are more than one hundred different versions of the popular SMART Goal formula.  I am going to compare three versions in this blog and the next two blogs.  The three versions I will review all have the same words for SMRT that I explained in the last blog:  Specific, Measurable, Relevant, Time-Bound.  The difference in the three versions we’ll look at is the “A” word.

One of the very popular SMART versions uses the word “Attainable” for the A.  And many people who teach this version will coach others not to set a goal unless they think it is at least 80% “Attainable.”  The reasoning is that you don’t want to set a goal and then fail at it.  This seems reasonable enough since we can all think of times when we – or others – experienced significant negative consequences from failing to achieve a goal.  Therefore, setting goals which are relatively easily Attainable seems to be a SMART thing to do.

Except for one thing.  The goal research does not support this.  The research clearly demonstrates that:

The more difficult the goal, the higher the level of performance.*

Hmmmm.  So, if we set a relatively easy “Attainable” goal then our chances of not failing are higher – but our overall level of performance may be lower.  What to do?

Some would say, keep the goal relatively low.  The consequences of failing are too risky.  Therefore, try to convince your boss that your easy goals are really hard so you can succeed and look good.  (This goes on every year in organizations around the globe!)

Okay – that’s a little cynical.  The desire to avoid punishment for failing at a goal is understandable.  But there are a number of good reasons for setting Attainable goals that are relatively easy.  One is to build momentum.  It can be nice to get some “quick wins” on a new project.  Another is if you are setting Learning Goals in a new domain where it is difficult to judge what is easy and what is hard.  Finally, let’s face it, some of us deal with setbacks better than others.  If you are setting goals with a team and you think they lack some confidence, then maybe setting some easier goals for a while is the way to go.

Still, we have to come back to the research – more difficult goals result in higher levels of performance.  Next time we’ll look at SMART v. 2.0 which is designed to leverage that research finding.  Stay tuned.

*Locke, E. A. & Latham, G. P.  A Theory of Goal Setting & Task Performance.  Englewood Cliffs, NJ:  Prentice Hall, 1990.

1 comment:

  1. Nice point you made there about setting attainable goals. I think "attainable" goals could be more suitable for short-term goals, but in long term, we should still aim for those "stretch" goals, or goals that really make a huge difference in our life.

    For setting and getting goals, you may want to check out a goal setting app called GoalsOnTrack, a very nicely built web app designed for tracking goals and todo lists, and supports time tracking too. It's clear, focused, easy to navigate.