Why SMART goals fail high performers

By Scot Herrick | Job Performance

May 18

When it comes to goals, SMART goals are the typical choice for businesses. It makes sense, too, because the SMART goal methodology gives a way to ensure the goals are well constructed. But, a well-constructed SMART goal doesn’t equal employee engagement, especially high performing Cubicle Warriors.

Instead, SMART goals fail high performers in three ways:

SMART team goals fail high performers

Every manager has team goals, right? The problem these team goals have with high performers is they drag the performance rating down. Understand how this works. High performers do well and are rewarded for the effort. When it comes to the performance review, higher performers earn higher ratings on their individual SMART goals. But team goals using team measurements require everyone on the team to step up to a higher level of performance. And that doesn’t happen. Instead the team goal has a lower rating than the individual performances that contributed to it. The lower performance rating then drags down the high performer’s overall rating.

SMART department goals fail high performers

In a similar manner, department goals typically drag the high performer’s ratings down as well. In this situation, the number of people working the department goal is even higher than the team goals. The more people working on a goal — when the measurement is department success, not individual contribution — the less likely the goal will be rated higher than “successful.”

SMART achievement goals fail high performers

Achievement goals are goals that simply have an end number defining success. “Increase sales 5%” is a typical example. The 5% is an achievement with no awareness of the means to get to the achievement. These intermediate steps to the 5% achievement are called “activity goals.” Activity goals are things you do to get to the achievement. In our sales example, it may mean making one more sales call per week. Or selling one additional product to 50% of current customers.

These activity goals, the work you actually do to get to the achievement, tell the story on how you will achieve the overall goal. High performers (and the rest of us) need these intermediate goals to ensure we are tracking at the highest levels of output to reach the achievement goals.

The SMART system is a great way to construct goals for personal and business use. But just because the goal is “SMART” doesn’t mean it will work to fully engage high performers.