25 December 2013

The problem with SMART goals

How SMART?

Someone came up with the idea for SMART goals. Who ever it was is not really important, all you really could say is thank you for this smart idea.
If you look superficially at what SMART stands for you get the feeling it is a rather smart trick to create motivated coworkers or employees. If you look again and again and let go of the idea that you need to motivate others you see a problem with SMART.

What does SMART mean

What does it stand for

The first person who came up with SMART had a great idea. As an acronym SMART stands for:

  • Specific and measurable
  • Motivational
  • Acceptable
  • Realistic
  • Timely
However does using this acronym to create goals not create motivating goals. Because realistic, acceptable, timely, specific and measurable goals motivate. The problem begins with who is going to find the goals realistic, acceptable, timely and specific. Is it the person that is going to realize the goals or the person who is setting the goals.
If the person that is setting the goal the one that decides if the goal is SMART, you probably get in to a big problem. Because how can you be sure that your goal is SMART for the person that is going to realize the goal.
If the person that has to achieve the goal is the one that decides if a goal is SMART, you get into another problem. Will he or she choose a goal that is challenging enough to be motivating or will he or she choose a goal that is so easy to achieve that he is not challenged or motivated.

Motivating SMART goals

SMART is motivating

So when setting SMART goals you need to know the person who is going to achieve those goals. Because you need to know what that persons finds realistic, acceptable, timely and specific.
For example a well organized person with lots of experience in a certain field will find a goal that is so specific that there is nothing left to the imagination completely unmotivating. Where as a person who just is going to do something for the first time, will find a specific measurable, realistic, acceptable, timely goal motivating even challenging.


You could say SMART goals are not defined by what you want to achieve but by whom they are going to be achieved. So you need to know the person who is going to realize those SMART goals. Which means you need to know what that person is capable of.

SMART SMART goals

If one needs to learn how to make SMART goals

If he or she has the competencies needed to be able to realize the goal, you can make it less specific, measurable, acceptable, realistic and timely. You could even tell this person to set his or her own goals if you tell them when you expect the result. They will probably tell you if it is acceptable and realistic. However if the person lacks the experience or even the competencies how will this person decide if a goal is specific, measurable, acceptable, realistic and timely.


So for someone lacking the competency to set SMART goals you need to create a double layered SMART goal. The first layer is about the goal you want to reach and the second layer is about the goal of building the competency to create SMART goals.


But how would you create such a double layered SMART goal?

SMART goals

How to create them

The acronym SMART is so smart it is almost self explainatory. But only if you are able to formulate goals. For example, if I know what is needed to be able to bake a cake I can set myself a SMART goal.
So I want to bake a simple cake for tea time, because I would like to eat some cake with my tea. Off course this goal is not complete. Becase I do not know if it is realistic and timely. Maybe it is three o’clock in the afternoon when I come up with this goal and I still need to by all the ingredients to make a cake. Now my goal is unrealistic and not timely, eventhough I might know how to make a cake. So part of knowing how to set SMART goals is knowing how much time it takes and what is needed to realize them. So you could make the following table:
So knowing what you need, when you need it, how you use it and for how long is as important as being able to set goals. You could even say that being competent is more important than being able to set goals. But that off course is not true. To succeed with a competency you need to have a goal. Even if that goal might just be having fun with your competency.


So what do you need to know to create SMART goals?

Knowing to create SMART goals

Because SMART motivates

As I said before to be able to set SMART goals one needs to be competent in the field or fields that are needed to reach a SMART goal. If you want to eat cake at tea time, you will not only need to be able to bake a cake or know someone who can bake cake. You will also need to be able to read the clock and know what time tea time is and how long it takes to prepare and bake a cake, so you can plan when to start baking. You will need to have money to buy or have access to all products needed to bake cake. You will need to know how an oven works or have an oven or know which baker sells the cake you want to eat at tea time.
So setting a timely, realistic, acceptable, motivating and specific goal is not enough, you need knowledge, understanding, time, means and the will to achieve that SMART goal.


Now is knowledge these days not the most difficult element to gain. Go to a search engine, type in Cake and you will find ten of thousands if not hundreds of thousands recipes of cake. Some recipes might even tell you what oven to use and where to get your ingredients. They will all tell you how much time it will take. Do another search for tea time and you can calculate when to start baking your cake, as you now know how long it takes to bake a cake and when you want to eat it.

Learn to create SMART goals

The easy way

First think of a goal you want to realize. A simple goal could be:
Eat some cake.
Next you can ask yourself:
What do I need to do to eat my cake?
The next thing you should think of is:
What do I need to know to be able to eat cake?
Then you should ask yourself:
When do I want to eat that cake?
Maybe you could even ask:
How much cake do I want to eat?
You could also ask yourself:
How much time do I want to take to make the cake I want to eat?
Another question could be:
How much do I want to spend on baking my cake?
If you put these answers together you might get the following goal:
This afternoon at tea time, I want to eat two thin slices of cake I made of flower, eggs, sugar and butter taking me no more then 90 minutes to make for a price of no more then five dollars.
So the easy way of formulating SMART goals is asking questions, questions like:
  • What do I want to do? (Goal)
  • When do I want to do that? (Timely)
  • How much time do I have? (Realistic; Timely)
  • How much money do I want to spend? (Motivating; Acceptable; Realistic)
  • What do I need to realize what I want to do? (Specific; Acceptable; Realistic)
  • How much do I want to do, what I want to do? (Specific; Acceptable, Realistic; Timely)
  • How much time do I want to spend on realizing what I want to do? (Specific; Motivating; Acceptable; Realistic; Timely)
  • Do I know how to realize what I want to do? (Specific; Motivating; Acceptable; Realistic)
  • Do I know people who could help me realize what I want to do? (Specific; Motivating; Acceptable; Realistic)
Once you have answered the necessary questions you can create a SMART goal. Because a SMART goals tells you specifically what you want, when you want it, if the time, money and means you need are acceptable and realistic and if you can do it in a timely fashion, so you keep motivated at reaching your goal.

Ending SMART

setting goals

So setting SMART goals needs two competencies. The first one is asking questions to find the information to make a goal specific, motivating, acceptable, realistic and timely. The second one is being able to evaluate the competency of the person or persons who are going to realize the SMART goal. Are they incompetent they need very specific, realistic and timely goals, to accept them and be motivated. If they are competent at realizing goals the SMART goal can be more general, but they still need to be informed about the time when the goal should be ready and they need to formulate acceptable and realistic activities to realize the goal that was set. Which means you can not ask a baker to bake a cake in 90 minutes at a price of five dollars if he does not have eggs, suger, flower, butter and an oven. That would be an unrealistic, unacceptable, specific, timely but demotivating goal.


So the problem with SMART is not that it is such a handy acronym, the problem is that you need to be competent to use it or need help from someone who is competent to realize that SMART goal you set.

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Basketball hoops by Normyo