Throughout my time in corporate America, right around evaluation time, all I heard about were SMART goals. Being in HR, I heard it even more because our job was to sell the idea to the managers and directors that SMART goals were the way to properly help their subordinates grow.
Being an active follower of politics as a whole, I always despised the notion of “flip-flopping.” I didn’t care who was doing it; I just never liked the idea. Well, today, I am officially calling myself a flip-flopper, and I couldn’t be happier. I am announcing my hatred towards the whole notion of traditional SMART goals.
The Trouble with SMART Goals
I’ve written about SMART goals before, and have even praised them, and I’m OK with calling myself out. This is part of the self-reflection I consistently do, and I would recommend everyone do it; you shouldn’t be afraid to challenge even your own arguments.
For those of you who are unaware or simply need a refresher, SMART stands for:
- S – Specific
- M – Measurable
- A – Attainable
- R – Realistic
- T – Timely
Some may say the “R” is supposed to stand for “relevant,” but that all depends on who you’re talking to. The original SMART goals list, created by George T. Doran, had “R” meaning realistic, which he defined as, “results [that] can realistically be achieved, given available resources.”
Well, George couldn’t have been more wrong, and it wouldn’t matter even if you substituted in “relevant,” because it would still be bad. Having realistic goals is the equivalent of having mediocre goals. (Click here to tweet this thought.) Goals that are realistic are goals that are easily attainable. Realistic goals will get you nowhere. You need to start creating unrealistic goals.
Now, I know what your initial thoughts may be: “Marc, I’m not interested in world domination” or, “Marc, I’m not looking to invent time travel.” And I agree; those are a bit preposterous. Perhaps an example would help?
Realistic goal: “I want to get a raise.”
Unrealistic goal: “I want to be a millionaire.”
Realistic goal: “I want to be promoted to the next level.”
Unrealistic goal: “I want to be a CEO.”
The point? You should strive for more! A realistic goal is one that can be accomplished with just time. An unrealistic goal takes hard work, dedication and persistence — but, more importantly, it takes belief — belief in yourself, that you can accomplish something bigger, something that seems unattainable.
You must be willing to believe in your unrealistic goal. Every morning, when you wake up, you must declare what you want. Convince yourself that you’ll shatter your realistic goals and strive instead for your unrealistic goals. When you do this, it will start to seem as if the world is conspiring with you. Simply speaking your unrealistic goals will help you visualize them — and when you can see something, it doesn’t seem so unrealistic anymore.
So, does this mean SMART goals are done for? Absolutely not. I simply mean we should rethink them. And instead of forcing SMART goals onto employees, we should focus more on helping them achieve end goals.
What Helps the Employee Helps the Company
Ultimately, SMART goals are “means” goals; they get you from point A to point B. Unfortunately, that’s mostly all corporate America cares about: learn this new skill, become proficient in it, and then we may consider promoting you — but, once promoted, you’ll need to learn new skills all over again. After you learn these skills, we can’t guarantee you any results or further promotions… but, congratulations, you’re now SMARTER!
It’s a focus on short-term goals that benefit the company in the here and now, not on inspiring employees to achieve their end goals.
Because corporate America puts an emphasis on means goals, they produce workers who are unmotivated and unambitious. Everybody — and I mean everybody — has end goals, whether they’ve defined them or not. When we force people to focus solely on means goals, they begin to lack the drive to want to strive for more. Why? Because they see no reason to work hard, since it won’t get them any closer to their end goals.
Now, let’s imagine a company where instead of focusing on short-term goals, management focuses on employees’ end goals. This would mean that every manager would need to get to know their employees on a personal level — and I know that alone is a massive undertaking, but it’s not impossible. Through these discussions, managers would learn what employees want to do with their lives, what they want to experience, how they want to grow and how they want to contribute back.
Once a manager can truly understand an employee’s individual motives, they can begin a transformation that benefits both the employee and the company. Focusing on an employee’s end goals shows that a company values their personal satisfaction, and this will result in them giving you 110%. Corporate America needs to learn that focusing on employees’ personal and professional end goals will create more motivated, loyal, innovative and passionate employees. And it’s these employees who will become our future leaders.
Are You Ready to Think Bigger?
There’s no reason why your goal of wanting to become a CEO or a millionaire should be laughed at or seem impossible. When Sir Richard Branson quit school at 16 years old, his dad’s response to him was, “Well, at least you know what you want to do with your life.” Your end goals should seem impossible to you at the time of writing them, but if you work at them every day, they will come to fruition.
First, define your end goals. (Over time, you’ll find that your means goals will define themselves.) Focus every day on achieving your end goals — speak them into existence, let the world conspire with you, and you will find that your unrealistic goal from years ago will become a true reality.
It’s time to unleash your potential and drop your realistic goals. Strive for more! Start thinking of unrealistic goals and work towards them!
This post originally appeared on A Better Interview.
How can you strive towards your “unrealistic” goals?