A Smarter Approach to S.M.A.R.T. Goals: Writing Better Goals vs. Achieving Higher Performance

by Burl Stamp

If you’ve worked in any large organization during the past 30 years, there is a very high probability that you’ve 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. When I speak to large groups and ask, “Has anyone heard of “SMART” goals?”, almost every hand in the room goes up.

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. While adapted by many authors and managers over time, the original acronym stood for:


If your sole purpose is to write better goals, this model is superb. But in our work with health care organizations to improve employee and patient engagement, we ask middle managers to think differently about how they set goals and use them to drive higher performance among their teams. 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 patients, our organization and to members of our team?

Is everyone on board regarding the specific practices that will help us achieve this goal?

Do I believe it is achievable given the resource 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 focuses more on implementation and making goals relevant for staff:


Our next several articles will focus on each of the major components of our adapted S.M.A.R.T. goal approach and how managers can use the model to improve adoption and results.

Interested in learning more about the Stamp & Chase S.M.A.R.T. goal model?
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