In the extraordinary book Goal Setting and Task Performance, Professors Locke and Latham summarize 393 separate research studies on goal setting, involving 40,000 subjects engaged in 88 different tasks, over time spans ranging from minutes to years. (1) According to their exhaustive research, the probability of reaching a goal increases when leaders:
- Limit the number of goals
- Create short-term and long-term goals
Many of us have dreams and desires, few of us write them as goals. We start out all fired up, then something happens; we slip, we fall, we get caught up in the same old routine... In no time, the fire that fueled our goal is a tumbleweed in the desert wind. Have you ever wondered why that is?
People often confuse foggy dreams with clear goals. Having a foggy goal is like setting sail for an uncharted island that you hope is out there... somewhere! In reviewing hundreds of research studies on how people achieve their goals, I discovered it is best to just say KNOW to foggy dreams, and yes to S.M.A.R.T. goals:
Soul – Are you in your goal?
Measurable – How will you measure what matters?
Attainable – Is your target out of sight?
Responsible – Who is on your team?
Timed – Do you have a date?
S – Soul. An acorn becomes an oak because that is its nature. Grass pushes through the sidewalk cracks because it’s expressing its true nature. You are here to nurture your nature. This means your goal should connect with who you are and encourage your 'YOUnique' talents to shine. We often fail to reach our goals because we don't hear what our soul whispers. Instead, we listen to well-meaning friends, coworkers, or the media advising us to set sail for destinations that do not truly capture our imagination. There is little soul in a goal when someone decides it for us. As you set sail on your journey, how will you (and members of your team) put soul in your goal?
M – Measurable. People often become sidetracked from their goal because they don't have a method of keeping track of their progress. A physician has her patient charts, a salesperson has his quotas, and sports have the scoreboard. How might you and your team monitor your success throughout the year.
A – Attainable. There is a greeting card that reads, 'Shoot for the moon - if you miss you’ll be among the stars.' The problem is, if you miss the moon, you could also end up lost in space! After analyzing 175 scientific studies on goal difficulty, Professor Locke from the University of Maryland concluded that hard goals lead to greater effort than easy goals, assuming the goals are accepted. Some leaders set their goals so far out there that the team never fully accepts them. How will you ensure that the team can see and believe that your destination is attainable?
R – Responsible. The sun is setting on the individual goal achiever. We all need a little help to reach our destination. There's just too much to know, too many obstacles to overcome, and it's too easy to let ourselves stay down when we slip. The Lone Ranger had Tonto, and Frodo had Sam in 'The Lord of Rings.' Whom do you have? The R in S.M.A.R.T. refers to your supporting cast, people who are 'Responsible' for encouraging you and holding you accountable to reach your destination. These few allies are usually friends, coworkers, or family members who believe in you and your goals.
T - Time. There is a reason the word, 'deadline' begins with dead. This last simple step announces to your subconscious that you're dead serious about reaching your destination. It is not good enough to say you will accomplish your goal in six months; you must write a specific date and then review your S.M.A.R.T. goal every day.
Now you know why you shouldn't be a tumbleweed in the desert. Just say 'KNOW' to foggy dreams by saying yes to S.M.A.R.T. goals.
1. Locke E and Latham G: A Theory of Goal Setting & Task Performance. Prentice Hall: Englewood Cliffs, 1990.