Video: Goal Setting Requires HARD Goals
Ever since I wrote the book HARD Goals, which is about goal setting, I've gotten a bit of a reputation as a guy who hates SMART goals. I think it's maybe a touch unfair, but let me tell you where it comes from. We did a study to look at goal setting involving over 4,000 people, and we asked these folks, everybody who had set SMART goals, "Are your goals this year going to help you achieve great things?" About 15% of people said "Yeah." Then we asked them, "Are your goals going to help you maximize your full potential?" About 13% of people said, "Yeah." Those aren't good numbers.
It's not that I don't like SMART goals, it's that for goal setting they don't seem to be achieving really great results. SMART goals were created in the late '50s for a very kind of militaristic mindset that says “Don’t step out of line.” A very 1950s kind of mindset when, you know, General Eisenhower was president. It's "We want people to color within the lines. Don't step out, don't get too crazy. Keep everybody in.” It was the era of the man in the gray flannel suit, for those of you that know that sociological study. It was that kind of a time and the goal setting reflected it.
The goals we need today, though…yeah, specific's good, measurable is good. But achievable and realistic? Eh. The things that make up SMART goals are not so good when goal setting today. We actually need big ideas, big thinking. When you think about all the great accomplishments you've had in your own life, I don't know, maybe you got that big promotion, sold the company, started a company, finished grad school, finished college, ran a marathon, quit smoking, lost 20 pounds, whatever it is. When you think about all those great, big accomplishments, ask yourself, were they achievable and realistic, or were they just a little bit crazy? They were outside of your comfort zone, right? Absolutely. Were they easy or were they hard? They were really hard. Did you know everything when you started, or did you have to learn lots of new skills along the way? Well, no, you had to learn lots of new skills along the way. Were you comfortable that you could accomplish the goal, or did you feel a little nervousness, maybe even a little anxiety? Yeah, you probably felt a little anxiety.
The mark of great goal setting, of a great goal, is that it's HARD: it’s Heartfelt. You have an emotional connection to it. It's Animated. You can clearly picture it. It's Required in that you have a sense of urgency. You must do this. And it's Difficult. It pushes you outside of your comfort zone. It's not that I don't like SMART goals. It's that the way they've been defined, they just don't achieve really great results.
Also think of it this way. CEOs don't set SMART goals. CEOs, they set HARD goals. Oftentimes they call them things like BHAGs, big, hairy, audacious goals. You don't see a lot of CEOs sitting around going, "I know, I know. Let's go take on Google or Apple, but let's make it achievable and realistic." No. It's counter to how CEOs run organizations. They go, "It's got to be audacious and crazy and hairy." Who even knows what that means? Got a hairy goal? We have to have something big and out there. HARD goals is just a way of trying to represent that spirit while formatting it in a little more articulate kind of way.
Ultimately, when you think about the goals you give to your employees, when goal setting for them, really ask yourself, "Are these goals in sync with what our CEO, what our board, would be doing?" Because if the CEO isn't sitting around setting SMART goals and making sure it's achievable and realistic and everything, if they're out there saying, as the late Steve Jobs said, "I want to make a dent in the universe," how good are the employees going to feel about their goals if the goals they set aren't good enough for the CEOs? If the CEOs say, “I would never set a SMART goal. I'm going to go make a dent in the universe like the late Steve Jobs did." How good is the employee going to feel about having a SMART goal?