Be Smart About Goals

Chances are that you have heard a thing or two about SMART goals. With resolution season upon us, you may even be setting a few Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely goals for yourself, but goal-setter beware! Those SMART goals may have some undesirable side effects. 

What to avoid

  • Tunnel Vision – Focus isn’t a bad thing, but intent focus on specific goals can come at the expense of your general operations, customer service or product quality. Be ever mindful of the valuable standards and activities that keep your business going. Goals should never get in the way of these things. Consider the following case study—    
    • The Ford Pinto – You know the one… Fifty-three people died in rear-end collisions that resulted in explosions. The goal was to create a car that was under 2,000 pounds and under $2,000. Safety standards were compromised, and the Pinto’s gas tank was located in the rear of the vehicle. …so mission accomplished, but it was a far cry from a Ford victory.
    • Narrowly Defined Incentives – Incentives are powerful motivators… but they can sometimes encourage undesirable behavior.  Consider the following case study—    
      • The Sears auto repair staff was presented with a productivity goal… bring in $147 for every hour of work. Mission accomplished, but not because productivity improved.  Staff members were overcharging companywide.
      • Hard and Fast Rules – SMART goals are a valuable tool. The auto-correct setting on your phone can also be a valuable tool. It can also lead to awkward situations. Auto-correct doesn’t pick up on context clues… It is unable to think for itself. The same goes for your SMART goals. Be prepared to reevaluate and amend accordingly.

Peter Bregman, a blogger for the Harvard Business Review, recommends substituting goals with “areas of focus.” He goes on to describe the differences… “A goal defines an outcome you want to achieve; an area of focus establishes activities you want to spend your time doing. A goal is a result; an area of focus is a path. A goal points to a future you intend to reach; an area of focus settles you into the present.”

Keep in mind that goals and “areas of focus” are not mutually exclusive. I would never suggest abandoning your resolutions only three days into the year… but maybe Mr. Bregman is onto something. Consider identifying “area[s] of focus” that are most important to you and reinforcing that focus with specific goals when appropriate.

The truth is that we have no idea what next month or next year looks like, and opportunity can present itself in unexpected ways. Mr. Bregman encourages us to “resist the temptation to identify the outcome [we] want to achieve. Leave that open and allow yourself to be pleasantly surprised.” I tend to agree.