Setting Smart Goals

In order to manage performance, supervisors and employees need to start by defining goals and objectives to negotiate and communicate expectations. Most authors agree with that premise. An example is Lee, Hu, Tinsley, and Niu (2006) who clearly discuss the link between setting objectives and the performance of employees.

Most consider the words “goal” and “objective” to be synonymous. The definitions from the Oxford English Dictionary use the word “objective” to define “goal” and the word “goal” to define “objective.”

It should be noted that an order of precedence is used in some cultures. Frequently, the word “goal” is used in the long-term. “Objective” is used in the short-term. In other cases, these are reversed.

Some goals and objectives are oriented on mastery and some on performance. Mastery is oriented on increasing competence. Performance is oriented on demonstrating competences that have already been acquired (Lee, 2006).

In The Leadership Challenge, Kouzes and Posner (2002) offer an interesting perspective on goals in stating:

“By having an intention to do something that is meaningful to us, by setting a goal, we take action, action with a purpose” and something to strive for.

Many authors use the SMART model as the basis for defining goals and objectives that are oriented on action. Although there is some variance in defining what the letters of SMART stand for, one that has been most used by the author is:

Specific – Measurable – Achievable – Relevant – Time-Based

Other models exist. As an alternative, in Organization Behavior, McShane and Von Glinow (2005) offer another model that includes acceptable, flexible, measurable over time, motivating, suitable, understandable, and achievable. These just don’t have the cleaver acronym.

Finally, Prather (2005) presents another interesting perspective on goals and objectives. The contention of the article, The Dumb Thing About Smart Goals for Innovation, is that SMART goals work well for the incremental objectives associated with standard operations. Prather proposes alternative criteria for goals that will be used in the pursuit of breakthroughs.

  1. Meets an unarticulated or emerging need of a customer or the marketplace.

AND / OR

  1. Targets non-consumption (creates consumers out of non-consumers).
  2. Challenges our assumptions about our current products, services or business model.
  3. Connects to the broader business of the company.
  4. Likely to get at least one influential sponsor.
  5. Must be able to visualize a pathway to profit with milestones along the way.
  6. Sense of urgency (the first to market takes the market).

Stephen P. (Steve) Czerniak

About the author:  Mr. Czerniak retired after a successful career that culminated in fifteen years of experience as an internal consultant and “change agent.” He is currently an Executive-in-Residence at the Macomb-Oakland University Incubator and a volunteer at the Troy Historic Village and Historical Society.


Reference: Lee C., Hu, C., Tinsley, C.H., Niu, X. (2006, July) Goal orientations and performance: role of temporal norms. Journal of International Business Studies: p484(15).

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