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SMART goals just aren’t enough

Posted by Amy Wilson on July 14, 2009

"Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" -Michael Jackson, 1979

There are all sorts of reminders out there about how to write good goals – from wikipedia to the For Dummies folks, we are told to be SMART. To set goals that are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

And this is great advice for individuals. It’s an excellent checklist to ensure you’re spending your energy on something that might get you paid. For awhile this was enough, when cascading goals (from individual to individual) were all the rage. But, as we saw with James Harvey’s enlightening paper on goal alignment in 2006 in which, among other things, he identified the limitations of cascading individual goals and the more practical promise of an organization-centric alignment model in driving business success … setting smart individual goals isn’t enough. We must set smart organizational goals as well.

The recent Talent Management magazine article “Link Individual Performance to Organizational Goals” delves into this topic, recommending a checklist for the process of connecting individual goals to organizational goals (the 7 C’s). It’s a great article written by “Performance Conversations” guru Dr. Christopher Lee and Sean Conrad of Halogen.

But I still feel like there is something missing … what makes a good organizational goal? What is actually going to get people to line up and do it?

And this is when I turn to the a-ha book Made to Stick that uses yet another acronym to describe ideas that succeed (yes, it is SUCCESs). Sticky examples include the urban myth “If you flash your brights at a car whose headlights are off, you will be shot by a gang member” and JFK’s famous proposal “of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth [before the decade is out].”

What do these “goals” have that SMART ones don’t? They’re compelling. They’re emotional. They make you feel. The above checklists do not make you feel.

We spend so much time in business trying to remove emotion, that we forget how powerful it is.  How important it is and how much people need to feel it in order to act.

And so, to the 7 C’s of connecting individuals to organizational goals, I propose adding Compelling. And, to make a smart individual goal into a smart organizational goal, let’s make it a smartE. A smartE with Emotion.

5 Responses to “SMART goals just aren’t enough”

  1. Meg Bear said

    I love the idea of emotion — not so much the idea of “smartE” goals though ;-).

  2. Amy Wilson said

    So, you’re saying I should keep my day job and give up on marketing?? 😀

  3. If we want to be successful, we need goals. But not just plain, ordinary goals. We need SMART GOALS so that we can stay focused and motivated. When our goals are not SMART, we are more susceptible to failure even more than not having goals in the first place.

    Take a look at this:


  4. rama said

    Whereas goal setting is indispensable in so far as the quest for success is concerned, goals need to be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound so that you will stay focused and on the right track. If otherwise, the whole goal setting thing will backfire on you (rather than egging you on forward, non-smart goals will hold you back).

    Here’s more about SMART GOALS:


  5. Amy Wilson said

    Rama/Charlie – thanks for the link. I liked the video.

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