SMART Goal Setting — Achievable goals for Cubicle Warriors

By Scot Herrick | Job Performance

Mar 26

SMART goal setting is the corporate standard and one that knowledge workers typically use when establishing their work focus — ending up with a performance review that evaluates these goals for compensation and/or advancement.

But SMART goal setting doesn’t work very well for people who work in cubes — the goals are typically department goals, not YOUR goals. This series of articles examines how the SMART goal setting process can be better used by knowledge workers in establishing their goals.

SMART, of course, is an acronym. We’ve already looked at “Specific” and “Measurable,” so today, we’re focusing on “A,” the “Achievable” part of the acronym.

Achievable, in a typical definition, means:

With a reasonable amount of effort and application can the objective be achieved?

The balance between a reasonable effort and not being able to make the goal, of course, is problematic at the outset.

But, in reality, most goals are not achievable as set up by corporations and their managers regardless of the “reasonable” debate — especially at the “Outstanding” rating levels.

Here are the issues:

The goals are not agreed to by both parties.

If you, as a knowledge working cubicle dweller, have no agreement with what is being decided for you, there is no control. And, I would suggest, no motivation or engagement in the work as well.

I was once told by a manager that no one could reach an “outstanding” rating for the goal and wanted to change it to something that would be really difficult, but not impossible. Nope. That was his goal, he knew it was impossible to reach, but he had no say in the “outstanding” rating either so wasn’t going to back off from that level with the people that worked for him. Makes you want to put in great effort to achieve this goal, doesn’t it?

Achievable is a story.

Goals are meant to produce behaviors that lead to where you want to go as a department or company. Consequently, the goal is merely the end point of the journey. The journey is the action set that will get you to the goal. If you can’t seen HOW you can work to achieve the goal, you won’t be able to achieve the goal. There must be a mechanism that can be used to get to the goal. Otherwise, it’s just an impossible number.

Achievable assumes control.

If you don’t have the tools to do the work, cooperation from the people needed to get to the goal, or don’t have control over the environment that will reach the objective, you won’t have an achievable goal. All too often, our managers assume that things will just “work out” and not to worry about these things. They rarely “work out.”

Achievable makes assumptions that may not hold.

Because there are expectations around how to achieve the goal, there needs to be a set of assumptions about the achievement. For example, if you were a mortgage broker and were selling mortgages to people, would you be able to sell as many conventional loans with an interest rate of 10% compared to 2%? Probably not. Yet, we rarely discuss with our managers that the assumptions around achieving the goal won’t change over the six to twelve months the goal is in effect.

If you have worked through these four issues (are there others you’ve encountered?), you will be able to have good discussions with your manager about the “balance” between making a goal and the difficulty in achieving it.

Most often, however, what looks to be an achievable goal on the surface is, instead, a goal that is fraught with risks of achievement — and you’re the person carrying 100% of the risk.

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