Once upon a time in a management world far away, the acronym SMART for setting goals entered the business lexicon.

It first appeared in a 1981 issue of Management Review in an article entitled There’s a S.M.A.R.T Way to Write Management’s Goals and Objectives by George Doran, Arthur Miller and James Cunningham. A big thanks to those guys for getting us more disciplined about the goal setting process.

SMART goals work and they’re good enough to support biz objectives. But, given how little time leaders have to make an impact and today’s business environment, is “good enough” good enough?

We Need to be Smarter than SMART Goals

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for goal setting and being disciplined about it. I could not facilitate a strategic planning workshop or put a leadership development plan forth without them. But, let’s face it, the conversations that focus first on whether something is doable or not can suck the oxygen out of a room. It’s the “big, hairy, audacious” goals that light the room on fire. And they rarely fit the one-word SMART acronym. I’m not suggesting we dump the acronym. I just think we need to use it to play a bigger game.

S – What if before being merely “specific”, we expect our goals to be systemic, shape shifting, synergistic and stretching?
M – They say what does not get measured does not get done. I get plenty of stuff done without measuring it along the way. Meaningful goals need to be memorable, motivating and yes, even magical sometimes.
A stands for achievable. Isn’t it just as important to discuss aspiration and bold action as part of that attainability formula?
R – When I hear relevance, I hear realism and results to keep goals focused on the here and now. Being realistic doesn’t get juices flowing quite the same way being remarkable does.
T requires us to be time-based. Yawn. Show me a goal that is thoughtful, whose time has come rather than in one that is defined by a deadline date. Few things inspire us more than people who trust themselves to achieve goals.

The goalposts are moving every day in workplaces that are not going to slow down no matter how much we wish they would. Goals need to be fierce enough to grab us by the throat, not just practical enough to feel “achievable.”

Expanding our thinking about the SMART acronym doesn’t make the goals any smarter. But it just might make US smarter.

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