For many years in corporate life, at about this time of year (December), I was asked to put together my goals and then challenged to make them S.M.A.R.T (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timed - other variations exist but the intention is broadly similar). Usually by about February it was pretty obvious that some of them wouldn't be achieved, and some weren't needed any more.
I wasn't alone.
SMART goals simply weren't smart, although the idea and principles make good sense. They are a great way to help people who are inexperienced in goal setting to think through what's needed, but they have weaknesses too. Over many years of working within and leading teams I learned that SMART goals aren't really goals at all, they aren't the things that drive us, they lacked ownership (many were just written do to satisfy the boss's boss that everyone knew what they were doing - what a laugh), and the measures and timing virtually guaranteed a degree of failure. As an example, a writer might set a S.M.A.R.T goal to write a book by March and to complete the outline by January. One month into the year a minor delay means the goal is missed, from then on it's catch up all the way.
Motivationally it's a poor choice.
Developing a better way.
I've developed an alternative approach that has served me well since then and given that we are at that time of year I thought we might all benefit from adding a bit of REALity to our goals.
REAL goals are those things we take responsibility for, that we own and understand, they really belong to us at an emotional level. If we are asked we can describe and talk about the goal in detail, we can respond to questions about it. We genuinely feel responsible for its achievement.
If the goal's not really yours, if it's just something your boss thinks you should do, you'll not really put heart and mind behind it, responsibility provides reality.
REAL goals are also effortless, they focus on the outcome and not the journey. The process is irrelevant, if you provide what you are asked to provide. That's not to say that the goals does not require effort, far from it, REAL goals are hard work, but the description of the output shouldn't set an expectation of the tasks, rather, it sets an aspiration.
Goals that intrinsically describe the effort that's required de-motivate those who are charged with delivering them before they even start, whereas a goal that describes an aspiration lifts the hearts of those who share it.
Should a sports team set a goal to 'beat 9 out of 10 of the best teams before Easter'? or to be 'recognised as playing at their best'?. If they do the later they'll probably do the former. The former is about the process, the later is about recognition, an output, not the means by which the output is achieved.
REAL goals accommodate early failure without the goal failing. Focus on the output helps to achieve that but the really important thing is to recognise that failure is a critical part of the mix.
Winston Churchill famously said that 'Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.' S.M.A.R.T goals often fail to take account of failure because they focus on the measures and timing. It's easy for things to go wrong and go wrong early. If the future was already determined goals would have no meaning - but we know it is not. The uncertainty that we are all faced with means that there is a high likelihood of events diverting from plans almost immediately they are set in motion.
REAL goals accommodate that and provide the guidance of a steady point of reference for you in that uncertainty. A navigators pole star.
REAL goals aren't short term, that's a space for tasks and projects, Real Goals run through our lives and give us clarity of aim and dedication of purpose, and for them to do that goals must have an element of Legacy, the stuff you leave behind when you have gone.
Legacy is more important than we are, it provides our conscience and makes us deliver from behind when things are slipping. This doesn't have to be world changing legacy though, I'm not saying that goals have to be so massive and far reaching that they become full of effort again.
An example of a REAL goal might be to 'to become recognised as a great writer' - provided you take responsibility for delivering it, it has little effort directly associated with it so it passes the effortless test. There clearly is a lot of effort to achieve it, but the expression of the goal drives positive reinforcement of the aim and focuses on the outcome. Not writing for a couple of weeks won't kill the goal (but might have killed a 'Write 3 books next year" SMART goal), and it leaves your mark without you because it's not self recognition that you are seeking.
It's a good time of year to think of Goals and if you are setting new goals then make them REAL and see the difference it makes.
For more information about REAL goal setting and utilising the principles behind them, in teams and groups of people, then give me a call or send me an email.