Be Smart in Setting S.M.A.R.T. Goals

Blogpost by Sebastian Anthony, Senior Consultant, True North


Influencing change and achieving targeted objectives starts with the ability to Clarify Measurable Results. The importance of identifying results is essential for business and project management.

Most of us are familiar with S.M.A.R.T. goal-setting:

Specific: what actions will you need to take and what will be accomplished?

Measurable: how can you tell if the job is done?

Achievable/Attainable: are the necessary skills and resources available for the task?

Realistic/Relevant: can the goal be achieved and does it align with broader goals?

Time-bound: when should the goal be achieved by?

Outlining research from Harvard Business School, psychologist and author Dr Jeremy Dean cautioned against an over-reliance on SMART goals. While he acknowledged the timeless benefits of SMART goal-setting, he remarked that they can be “over-specific”, which can bias behaviors in unintended ways. These over-specifications have the ability to degrade overall performance by warping the way people view their jobs and behave. For example, If you use SMART goals to tell a university professor that 3 research papers need to be published per semester, then what is going to happen to her teaching? Perhaps, a better way to craft the goal may be to state, “To enable 3 PHD students to have their thesis published in top 2 tier journals”. This ensures that the focus is not only publishing articles but also that the process of teaching allows them to be recognized.

Dr Dean also highlights other shortcomings of S.M.A.R.T. goals including setting too many goals. This tends to blur the vision due to the focus on quantity without much quality. Some goals also tend to be short termed, which may interfere with the long-term vision. Then again, the bar of some targets can be set so high that it’s not achievable.

This is why setting the right goals and clarifying measurable results with stakeholders is crucial for becoming an effective influencer. Doing so helps to:

1. Provide clarity: Setting clear goals and measurable results helps everyone involved understand what is expected and what success looks like. This clarity can help avoid confusion or miscommunication down the line.

2. Track progress and results: When you have clearly defined goals, you can develop a plan that outlines the steps necessary to achieve those goals. This plan can help keep you on track and ensure that everyone involved is working towards the same outcome. when evaluating the success of the project, campaign or whether overall goals have been met, it provides valuable insights to what worked well and the improvement that may be needed.

3. Facilitates accountability: When goals and measurable results are established, it is easier to hold everyone accountable for their contributions and makes it transparent for everyone in the team. This can help ensure that everyone is pulling their weight and doing their part to achieve the desired outcome.

4. Provides motivation: Clear goals and measurable results can also serve as motivation for everyone involved. When people understand what they are working towards and see progress being made, it can be motivating to continue pushing towards the finish line.

To read more on what Dr Dean says about the shortfalls of SMART goals, check out



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