If you’re in any kind of business you’ve undoubtedly come across SMART goal setting. It’s the accepted way to set goals. The basic premise is that a goal has to be Specific, Measurable etc in order to motivate you enough to achieve it.
That’s the theory.
But in practice, if you’re setting SMART goals and not reaching them, then you’re not alone.
Does the SMART theory stand up in practice?
What does the research say?
While academic research into goal setting is extensive, results proving its efficacy are thin on the ground. The study most often cited as evidence of its value is a longitudinal one, showing that, 30 years on, 3% of Harvard MBAs make 10 times as much money as the other 97% merely because they’d written down their goals as students. This would be convincing evidence, if the report actually existed.
On the other hand, studies such as Goals Gone Wild, published by Harvard, demonstrate how “the beneficial effects of goal setting have been overstated and that systematic harm caused by goal setting has been largely ignored.”
Could it be that SMART doesn’t work?
Ask yourself, how many of the goals you set do you reach?
Why are so many goals apparently well set but never met?
In the neat, logical, linear process of most goal setting there’s precious little allowance made for human behaviour. There’s no consideration of the resistance we’ll encounter, no ‘priming’ for change, no removing of the barriers that will inevitably block our way.
Goals entail us changing. We resist change.
It’s that simple.
But the neat Gantt chart we spent days designing, the business plan we crafted meticulously, the lists we’re poised to tick off, they rarely build the ‘change/resistance’ factor in. Maybe a bit of contingency. But there’s never any acknowledgment of the down-n-dirty, mean, subversive, stubborn, often subconscious trickery that comes arm-in-arm with change.
“This is a big illusion that our society believes in”
Goal setting provides us with a comforting fantasy that we can control life…that all we have to do is plan well, work hard, throw in some positive thinking, and all will come true.
Comforting until it doesn’t work.
Of course we need to-do lists, milestones, goals…but if our focus is directed solely towards them we risk missing everything else of value along the way.
What’s the smart alternative?
- The journey is definitely going to happen, whereas the destination is always uncertain. So concentrate on getting the maximum out of the process rather than predetermining the outcome.
- Prime for change by identifying the barriers you’re likely to encounter and planning your responses ahead of time. This is the secret to your success.
- Keep the goal in mind, but be open to the new, and flexible in your response to the unexpected – the intriguing path that presents itself could take you to a far more interesting place than you’d planned for…
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