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14 Goal Setting Frameworks That Aren’t SMART

Posted by on February 25th, 2013 with 1 Comment

While I’m a champion for SMART as Hell goals, the SMART acronym (which states that goals should be Specific, Measurable, Aggressively Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound) is certainly not the only fish in the pond. There are plenty of other goal-setting frameworks out there.

Let’s look at a few, with my take on each:

  • “ABC” Goals
    Creating Success From the Inside Out, by Taylor and Brantley
    Achievable, Believable, Controllable
    This framework is a recipe for standing still. It’s a good acronym for writing tasks, but not not for creating game-changing goals. If we agree that goals should lead you to learn and grow, then an action that’s achievable, believable, and controllable isn’t enough.
    WINNER: SMART
  • “AIM” Goals 
    Set Smart Short-term and Long-term Goals, by Krieger
    Achievable, In line with priorities, Measurable
    This isn’t bad. It shares the Measurable and Achievable/Attainable components of SMART goals. ‘In line with priorities’ is one aspect of Relevance. You could argue that time is part of ‘Measurable’, but there are still aspects of Specificity that are not well covered by this framework.
    WINNER: SMART
  • “CLEAR” Goals
    Ahead of the Curve, by Stowell and Mead
    Creative, Linked, Energizing, Actionable, Result-Oriented
    First off, I highly recommend this book on ‘everyday strategy. This is an interesting framework. Many of these items are sub-components of relevance – which I believe is the most important aspect of SMART. A goal isn’t truly Relevant if it’s not Result-oriented, Actionable, Energizing, and Linked to your mission, vision, values, and stakeholders. On the other hand, I’m not sure goals need to be creative. This framework also doesn’t cover specificity or measurability. It’s a nice addition to SMART, but not a replacement for it.
    WINNER: SMART
  • “CLEAR” Goals
    The Seven Steps of Effective Executive Coaching, by Dembkowski and Eldridge
    Challenging, Legal, Environmentally Sound, Appropriate, Recorded 
    I like this. It’s a great framework for provoking conversation about whether your goal is the ‘right’ goal to pursue from a moral perspective. It clearly doesn’t cover Specific, Measurable, Aggressively Attainable, or Time-bound. This framework is all about Relevance.
    WINNER: SMART for writing goals, but CLEAR is a solid test of the ethical strength of your goal.
  • “EXACT” Goals
    Best Practices in Performance Coaching, by Wilson
    EXciting, Assessable, Challenging, Time-framed
    Assessable = Measurable. Time-framed = Time-bound. Challenging is half of Aggressively Attainable. EXciting is a small piece of Relevance. Specific is missing.
    WINNER:  SMART
  • “FRAME” Goals
    Managing Employee Performance, by Williams
    Few, Realistic, Agreed, Measured, Explicit
    Explicit = Specific and perhaps Time-bound. Measured = Measurable. Few, Realistic, and Agreed, are parts of Aggressively Attainable. Agreed could also be a part of Relevance; but only a small part.
    WINNER: SMART
  • “HARD” Goals
    Hard Goals, by Murphy
    Heartfelt, Animated, Required, Difficult
    Probably the best known of the SMART challengers, HARD goals are targeted directly at the workplace – not personal goals for fitness, wealth, scholastics, etc. Difficult = Aggressively Attainable. Required and Heartfelt both aim to make the goal Relevant. Animated attempts to create Specificity, like SMART, but also add more Relevance through powerful images. The problem with Animated is that Murphy uses Martin Luther King as an example, but “I Have a Dream” was a vision, not a goal. Measurable and Time-bound are not covered.
    WINNER: SMART. There’s some great goal-writing advice in this book, but I wouldn’t replace SMART with HARD.
  • “INSPIRE”
    Every Girl With a Plan, by Waterhouse
    Interesting, New, Specific, Productive, I can do it, Rewarding, Expansive 
    Specific is covered. Expansive yet I can do it = Aggressively Attainable. Interesting, Productive, and Rewarding are components of Relevance. New can also be part of Aggressively Attainable, but I don’t think it’s necessarily important that a goal is New. We’re missing Measurable and Time-bound again.
    WINNER: SMART
  • “MACIC”
    59 Checklists for Project and Programme Managers, by Kor and Wilnen
    Measurable, Acceptable, Committing, Inspiring, Communicated
    Measurable = Measurable. Acceptable is part of Aggressively Attainable. Committing and Inspiring are parts – but not all – of Relevance. Communicated is an interesting addition, but it’s not part of writing the goal. It’s what happens after the goal is written. Specific and Time-bound are not covered.
    WINNER: SMART
  • “PURE” Goals
    The Seven Steps of Effective Executive Coaching, by Dembkowski and Eldridge
    Positively Stated, Understood, Relevant, Ethical
    Understood = Specificity. Relevant = Relevant. Ethical is a sub-component of Relevance. Positively Stated is based on psychology research showing that positively-stated goals are more likely to be achieved than negatively stated goals. It’s a good technique, but it’s only part of what makes a goal Aggressively Attainable. It’s also more applicable to personal situations than business goals.
    WINNER: SMART
  • “QUEST” Goals
    Inner Game of Work, Gallwey
    Qualities, Understanding, Expertise, Strategic Thinking, Time
    This is an interesting model for writing learning goals – addressing the Qualities, Understanding, Expertise, Strategic thinking and ability to handle Time – for yourself or others. I would suggest that this is a good start, but whatever is produced through this method should be made SMART as Hell – Specific, Measurable, Aggressively Attainable, Relevnt, and Time-bound
    WINNER: SMART – with QUEST pre-work if you’re writing a learning goal.
  • “SMAC” Goals
    Business Reference for Students and Professionals, by Myers
    Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Consistent
    This model drops Relevance and Time-bound for Consistent – a poor trade, in my opinion.
    WINNER: SMART
  • “SUCCESS” Goals
    The Compensation Solution, by Tropman
    Simple, Understandable, Competence-driven, Communicated clearly, Equitable, Share Vision, Sustain Enthusiasm
    This is a model for workplace compensation goals. Simple, Understandable, and Communicated clearly are parts of Specific and Measurable. Sustain Enthusiasm touches aspects of both Aggressively Attainable and Relevance. Share Vision and Competence-driven are aspects of Relevance. Equitable is a part of Relevance, if you want a compensation system that works.
    WINNER: SMART for general goals. SUCCESS is useful for validating Compensation goals.
  • “ACTION” Goals
    7 Rules of Achievement, by Terwilliger
    Accessible, Clearly stated and Concise, Towards and Timed, Impassioned, Organic, As if Now
    Clearly Stated and Concise = Specific. Accessible = Attainable. Towards and Timed = Time-bound. Impassioned and Organic (aligned with your values) both fall under Relevant. As if Now suggests writing your goal in present tense – not a bad tip, but hardly one worth creating a new acronym while leaving out Measurable.
    WINNER: SMART

I believe that SMART wins in all of these comparisons, so why do challengers keep coming after SMART?

  1. Niche Markets: Some frameworks – like SUCCESS for compensation, QUEST for learning, CLEAR for ethics – are meant to address specific use cases. These are not intended to replace SMART, merely to supplement it.
  2. Vague Language: One of the challenges with any mnemonic device is that it serves merely as a reminder, not as a program. So, while ‘Relevant’, for example, is a useful reminder that a goal should be relevant, it doesn’t define what relevant means. For that reason, other goal frameworks declare that your goal should be Inspiring, Heartfelt, Ethical, Productive, and so on. Of course, that begs the question, what does ‘Heartfelt’ mean? What does ‘Ethical’ mean? We can keep drilling down in a ‘Russian Doll’ of goal acronyms until we’ve built a dictionary.

This highlights a key finding of my goals research:
SMART is an excellent framework, but a lousy tool.

But then, all frameworks make lousy tools. They are merely aids. They are not a substitute for real tools.
So, I spent 4 years creating the SMARTometer, a 24-criteria tool that helps you assess and write goals that are SMART as Hell,  the SMARTsheet, a worksheet for assembling great goals, and the SMART as Hell one-day workshop.

SMART as Hell Exercise 

  1. Which of the alternative goal-setting frameworks have you used?
  2. What words or prompts are useful for you?
  3. Do you know of any other goal-setting frameworks?
  4. Do they offer any advantages over the SMART framework?

Share below.

 

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