Why Your 'SMART' Goals Aren't Working


Like every high achiever I know and work with, goals have been an important part of my life for many years. Early on, we’re taught the importance of regularly setting goals and using a system to guide us to reach them. We’ve heard dozens of different philosophies on how to set and achieve goals. Some lead to success with one goal but not another. Why is that? How can we consistently reach every goal?

What Are SMART Goals?

One widely accepted goal setting strategy is the use of S.M.A.R.T. goals. SMART is an acronym used to describe a goal as Specific, Measurable, Agreed Upon (plan/strategy), Realistic and with a Timetable. The example commonly used is the goal to lose weight. That goal is too general. The way to ‘smarten’ it up would be to ‘Weigh 205 pounds on February 5th, 2017.’ To completely pass the SMART test, it needs a plan to make that happen and assurance that it’s a realistic goal. If it’s January 1st, I weigh 210 lbs and I’ve found a specific plan to begin eating healthy with a new exercise program, it seems to be realistic and ultimately ‘SMART.’ Conventional wisdom says that I’ve developed a SMART goal so if I keep it front and center and do the work, I should hit my goal. Why then do so many people fall short with this SMART goal system?

SMART Goals are Not the Problem

First, let me say that I am a big proponent of SMART goals. I encourage every client I work with to set SMART goals in a variety of areas of their work and personal priorities. The issue isn’t the SMART goal system. The issue is that there is more to it. Smart goals miss two key components to ensure success… Fitting the work into your current world and ensuring you follow through.

Schedule Time to Execute

When you set out to achieve a new goal, it’s something beyond your current reality. This means that your habits need to change. Step one… As soon as you establish your SMART goals, decide when you’ll do the work required to achieve the goal. Schedule that time in your calendar. During this process, look at your to-do-list and calendar. Figure out what you will remove. Be mindful that you already have more to do than you can complete. Every time you add more work to current responsibilities, it will put more stress and pressure on you and everyone around you. Avoid that by planning accordingly.

Establish Accountability Partners

Step two… Establish your accountability partners. Even with the best intentions, you can only do so much on your own. An accountability partner can be a spouse, mentor, friend, coworker or your supervisor. You can hire a professional like a personal trainer, consultant or executive coach. Either way, you need to establish consequences to ensure you stay on track. With a trainer or coach, you have precious time and money that have been committed. You also have the embarrassment that’s brought out with regular discussions at your regularly scheduled workouts, coaching sessions or meetings. Another powerful strategy is to share your goals and progress publicly through social media. Ideally, you’ll want a combination of all these accountability tactics working together on your behalf. The stronger your accountability system, the more powerful your commitment and the easier it is to break through those days when your discipline fades.

Action Items

Now it’s your turn. Let’s get to work. Follow this 5-point plan to make sure you reach your most important goals this year!

  1. Review your current goals.

  2. Make sure each is S.M.A.R.T.

  3. Schedule time in your calendar to take action.

  4. Remove other responsibilities from your workload.

  5. Establish your accountability system.