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What is SMART?
John Spacey, updated on March 21, 2021
SMART is a set of criteria that is commonly applied to business goals. According to SMART each goal should be: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. SMART criteria are widely used but aren't necessarily widely accepted. That is to say, that they are commonly criticized as being too restrictive or as missing something. The following are a few common criticisms of SMART.
1. SpecificSpecific goals make sense where an organization knows exactly what's to be done. They don't make as much sense if the business is constantly in flux with shifting priorities. Specific goals may also impede innovation and other areas that are exploratory in nature.
2. MeasurableIn practice, measurement is difficult. As a result, goal setting may focus on measurements over all else. Often goals that add the most value to the business are dropped in favor of goals that can be more easily measured.
3. AchievableIt is often in the best interest of both employees and managers to make goals highly achievable. However, the SMART criteria do little to encourage ambitious goals or to embrace the potential value of pushing for aggressive goals and failing. As such, they may encourage complacency and mediocrity.
4. RelevantRelevant speaks to the need to tie each individual's goals to the goals of the team and organization. It tends to be open to interpretation as employee side projects can be creatively mapped to an organization's goals.
5. Time-boundThe target dates in a goal setting document aren't typically maintained. As a result, shifting priorities, canceled projects and unfulfilled dependencies often invalidate the goal dates. Continually updating the dates in the manner of a project plan might have questionable value.
SMART In PracticeDespite the common criticisms, SMART is a reasonable attempt to establish some basic criteria to guide goal setting. In practice, criteria such as Specific may be loosened to include some general goals. It's also common for highly qualitative measurements to be developed such as feedback from stakeholders in the form of a survey. The time-bounds set for each goal are often not maintained to reflect business priorities and dependencies. As a result, the dates often have limited value as a tool of performance evaluation.
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