The Dumb Letter in SMART Goals


SMART Goals, the management concept for goal setting created in the 1980s that has become wildly popular in the business world. Almost everyone has heard of SMART goals, most have a sense of what the acronym means, and some use the tool religiously to great effect.

Now, here’s a precursor. I’m not trashing SMART goals (it’s a great tool), and I also recognize over the years that a number of variations of SMART goals have been created. But there is one letter in one version of SMART goals that, well, just isn’t as smart as the rest of them.

Here’s a version of SMART goals I saw recently (bold, added for emphasis).

Specific

Measurable

Agreed Upon

Reasonable

Time Bound

It makes sense that your goals should be specific, well defined, and aligned with your vision. They must have measurable action points that allow you to track your progress in a clear, tangible manner. Ultimately--with healthy discourse encouraged-- your team must come to an agreement to move forward with your goal as a committed unit. And finally, your goal must have a deadline, the ticking clock ramping up action as time draws to a close.

But reasonable? What extraordinary accomplishment has ever come from reasonable? In fact, if something is so reasonable, it begs the question, why does it even need a goal at all?

“Our annual sales goal is to stay flat!”

That’s specific. Measurable. Something everyone can agree upon. It has a deadline. And it’s very reasonable. But it’s not quite inspiring, engaging, energizing, challenging or uplifting, and it surely won’t produce any extraordinary results.

If you change the "R" to a "U," you end up with a version of SMART goals spoken like a true New Yorker. SMAUT Goals (pronounced as if you were a gangster from Brooklyn in the 60s, “you bettuh not get smaut with me, buddy!”).

The “U” stands for UNreasonable. Within internal management relationships at high performing organizations, people are not only allowed, but encouraged to to make unreasonable commitments, requests, promises, and goals. In order to achieve unreasonable goals, you have to make unreasonable commitments. Unreasonable commitments generate unreasonable actions, and unreasonable actions produce extraordinary results. Furthermore, when people set unreasonable goals, they naturally enroll other people to help them in accomplishing their goals, and a web of accountability and support is created. The end result is a virtuous network of accountability, moving and stretching towards an objective that pushes the limits of possibility. Now that’s a goal.

Unreasonableness is not a foreign concept to extraordinary business leaders and visionaries such as Larry Page, CEO of Google. “10x” is the gospel that Page lives by. His stance is that most companies are satisfied with making something 10 per cent better, but at Google, they strive to make things 10 times better. It’s the same unreasonableness that pushed Steve Jobs to disrupting an industry and changing the world forever with the invention of the iPhone. Wanna talk unreasonable? How about putting 1 million people on Mars by 2060--good luck, Elon.

The limits of innovation and progress have never been pushed by reasonable. Even if you fail at your unreasonable goal, you probably will have landed a lot further than by aiming for something within your grasp. The world we live in today is begging us for unreasonable. It is taunting us with great challenges, threatening circumstances, overwhelming problems, and the resources to solve them. We all have the power to move humanity forward. It’s simple, but not easy.

Don’t be a dummy. Get SMAUT. Be unreasonable.