A Smarter Approach to S.M.A.R.T. Goals

How to set and communicate team goals to achieve better results

If you’ve worked in any large organization, you’ve probably been encouraged to write S.M.A.R.T. goals. This easy-to-remember acronym was originally introduced in a 1981 issue of Management Review by authors George Doran, Arthur Miller, and James Cunningham.

If one of their goals was to develop a memorable model that would stick in management practice, then they’ve been extremely successful. In fact, when I speak to groups and ask, “Has anyone heard of ‘SMART’ goals?”, almost every hand in the room goes up.

However, despite its memorability and simplicity, the SMART goal approach by design has limitations. As suggested in the authors’ original article title – “There’s a SMART Way to Write Management Goals and Objectives” – the focus of the model is on the structure and content of the written goal itself. It doesn’t address how to set and communicate goals effectively for work teams.

While adapted by many authors and managers over time, the original acronym stood for: Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, Time-Bound.

If your sole purpose is to write better goals, this model is superb. But when we partner with organizations to improve employee engagement, patient experience, and quality, we ask middle managers to think differently about how they set and communicate goals to drive higher performance. We emphasize important questions that make a difference in how staff view goals and their role in helping achieve them:

  • Why is the goal important to our customers/patients, our organization, and to members of our team?
  • Is everyone on board regarding the specific practices that will help us achieve this goal?
  • Can we achieve the goal given the resources we have for implementation?
  • How do I know if we’re making progress?
  • Do we celebrate when we succeed together? And do we course-correct when we fall short?

Our adapted S.M.A.R.T. goal model, which focuses more on implementation and making goals relevant for staff, changes the “M”, “A”, and “T” in the original model:

stamp & chase smart goals graphic

Our next five articles will focus on each of the major components of our adapted S.M.A.R.T. goal model. When leaders think about how goals are set and communicated, not just written, engagement, adoption, and ultimate results improve.

Stamp & Chase offers unexpected solutions to challenges of employee burnout, retention, and disengagement that many leading organizations are facing today. If you’d like to learn more about our robust tools and approaches that help leaders transform staff engagement by developing middle managers, send us a message here