How Smart are SMART Goals?

In my New Year’s Resolutions are Ineffective blog I revealed one of the top tips of coaches (from a recent survey/discussion forum) were for goals to be SMART, i.e. Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound. However, there was some debate around this and some coaches felt the process was restrictive, and more suitable to short-term task-focused goals only. The SMART process lacked room for creativity and imagination.

Perhaps the best way to explore this debate further is to take one of my goals for 2011 and apply SMART to it, then see how restricting (or otherwise) it feels.

Goal area: Developing my blog writing skills and frequency of posts

Applying SMART …

Specific: To be writing at least one blog entry per week by the end of March 2011, and feel content with what I have produced

Measurable: I can measure it in terms of evidence of weekly production, although I would need to explore what ‘content’ means for me, perhaps being able to give my efforts a 7/10 or above would mean I am content (?)

Achievable: It’s achievable in that I have the skills to write a blog and have written blogs in the past. I also have the time and material to write one per week.

Realistic: It seems a realistic goal. I am not over-stretching my skills or giving myself an unworkable target.

Time-bound: I have a time scale of the end of March, and want to have published a blog weekly during March to say I’ve achieved this goal.

OK, so having applied SMART – how do I feel about it? To be honest, it feels clearer and more focused, but not particularly exciting. I think it takes me beyond my comfort zone and into my stretch zone (which is where I believe goals should be) but will it inspire me to go beyond that? Will I want to sustain it and aim for ‘new heights’?

For me, a goal needs to be exciting and motivating, so this goal will need more work. I believe it’s part of a bigger picture, a bigger goal … one that will be part of my CPD. What will help me, perhaps, as a starting point is to answer the following questions:

1. What values does this goal support?

2. What are the benefits of achieving this goal (including personal growth benefits)?

3. What new skills / knowledge will achieving it give me?

4. What else could it lead to?

5. What will my reward(s) be for achieving it? (I know here that achievement will be reward in itself, but it will be nice to have something to look forward to, so I will come up with a tangible reward too!)

To conclude, I think SMART applied to this particular goal is relevant but it has its short-comings, and I think is restricting.

I’m interested to hear whether you apply SMART to your goal-setting process, and how it works for you. please feel free to comment below.

*Thanks to David Clutterbuck for his comments and insight into SMART and goal-setting.

Photo above courtesy of jscreationzs /

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2 Responses to “How Smart are SMART Goals?”

  1. steve riege Says:

    I think you are correct Debbie. For the new Goal setter, SMART may be helpful, but if you really want a return for your effort, you need to dig deep as you have pointed out so well.

    I am applying these 3 questions to my goal setting for 2011. 1) What do you have to do to get “Better” in 2011? 2) What do you want to “Learn” in 2011? 3) What is your biggest “Caution to Fail” in 2011?

  2. squaretwocoaching Says:

    Thanks Steve for your comments. I particularly like the 3 questions you have added and think they add real value to the goal-setting process. It’s important, with questions like these, to be clear what these terms mean for you, which I am sure you’ve done already.
    Thanks for sharing.

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