Goal failure – SMART sucks and the missing “Why”

Goal failure

In the Corporate Environment you no doubt have had 10s if not 100s of SMART goals. Writing your goals as SMART is about as good as it’s going to get for many and may even help you achieve the odd goal here and there. The reality is that in line with Expectancy Theory, they generally do not drive the outcome intended.

(For the gratefully uninitiated, SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timely. They are specific and measurable in that they are defined clearly, not improve revenue, improve revenue by £123,546. They are achievable in that you are not trying to break the 9 second barrier for the 100m sprint. They need to be relevant, so are you measuring social likes by 12 year olds when your market is selling insurance to retirees and finally they are within the time span that makes sense.)

 So what is the point of goals?

Goals are meant to drive a behaviour or an outcome. The problem with many goals is that they become an outcome in themselves. What was meant to drive an outcome, becomes the outcome, which will either hit home with you or sound like gibberish, so put more eloquently:

“What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.” – Zig Ziglar

Goals should be set to drive behaviour and direction. SMART goals often fail to do this because the outcome is rewarded.

OK, I get that, but even still why goals are so hard to achieve?

  1. The “Why” is not clear (specific) enough or the goals are not aspirational enough to motivate. When you are clear on your “Why”, goal setting becomes merely an indicator, a tempreture guage, it is a way to track, not the outcome itself. By starting with identifying the desired behaviours and habits, you can then set goals to help drive those behaviours (expectancy theory). A second apsect is that people don’t own or associate with the goals. If you are starting the sentence with “I should….”, you will fail. You have to own it and start with “I want to…”. To do this, you need to know your why.
  2. Accountability & structures are not in place to succeed . Weight watchers has been around for over five decades. Their key to success? Accountability – which is measured in terms of 8x the weight loss. That is the power of accountability. What gets measured and tracked gets done.
  3. A ridiculous perfect record is targeted. People don’t factor in failure, so one “slip-up” and they reset to their starting point. Going sugar, gluten or alcohol free and there is a party, you have one slice of cake and a beer. The next day you are back to your old behaviours. You need to allow for the normal peaks and troughs in life, you are aiming for better, not perfect.
  4. Looking for quick fixes rather than the utilising the compound effect of sustained good habits & routines replacing bad ones. The easiest way to get rid of bad habits is to replace them, not get rid of them. 30 Day challenges are another great way to embed new behaviours, but don’t expect them to be perfect.
  5. Focus on the goal (becoming the outcome) rather than the process, input and transformation. You should be celebrating true success (every success) and that is what you become, that is the true achievement.

The short of it is that goals should be about driving an outcome, not be the outcome itself. That is SMART.


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