Are SMART Goals Always Smart?

Are SMART Goals Always Smart?

Who doesn’t know about the SMART goals? It’s become a catchphrase in business, life, or generally when you hear goal setting.

SMART goals are supposed to be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound.

However, they are not always smart. 

In some cases, they can be too detailed and not practical enough. Or in other cases, they can be too broad and not measurable enough.

The acronym doesn’t give us an effective context in which we need to use it. 

So can we conclude that SMART goals are effective in all contexts? 

In what contexts are setting SMART goals useful? 

Is it true that when setting your company OKRs you must fit them into SMART goals?

You may not question when setting smart goals because they seem to be the smart thing, and setting them does make sense, right? 

It is true that when we set realistic and doable goals, the chance of failing in completing that task is lesser.

The framework is also motivating because accomplishing a task motivates and energizes us to take the next step toward the other tasks. And on and on it goes.

However, as every coin has two sides, SMART goals also have drawbacks. 

This article will explore what goals are, when is the good time to set smart goals, and when you must refrain from setting them. As a bonus, we will also dive deep into how you can set SMARTER goals. Now that’s something new to learn, right? 

Let’s get started.

What Are Smart Goals?

SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely. Anyone can use this framework to create goals and objectives for any work.

SMART goals are a great way to break down the large goal into smaller, more manageable, and achievable tasks. They also make it easier for you to track your progress as you go through your tasks.

Bonus: Get an in-depth understanding of smart goals and how to write them

Why Do We Need Goals?

A goal is a destination, a target, or an endpoint.

Goals are an essential part of a project. Without them, there would be no way to measure success or to know what you need to do next.

Goals are the backbone of any project. If you don’t have goals, you don’t know what to do next. 

A goal is a measurable and specific target that you want to achieve. It includes the time frame, the expected result, and the importance of achieving it.

Goals are essential for organizations because they can help evaluate past performance and expectations. Executives also use them to assess the performance of their managers and employees.

The goals of an organization should be clear, achievable, measurable, relevant to its vision and mission statement, and aligned with its values.

When Is a Good Time To Use Smart Goals?

It is excellent to have SMART goals when planning your project. Projects come with a clear scope of work that you need to do. 

This work set will produce specific deliverables in a timeframe that you fix.

In such a case, everyone on the team can benefit significantly if you set your project goals per the SMART goals framework.

Talking about the outer structure of a project, the guidelines we just spoke about hold true too.

If making your goal clear about what you want to achieve and what ‘complete’ looks like for you, then use the SMART goals.

One of the essential characteristics of SMART goals is that once you finish working with them, it’s done and dusted!

After you have reached the goal you need to achieve, you can craft a new, different SMART goal for another project in the future.

Now let’s discuss the wrong time for you to use SMART goals. 

When Is It Not a Good Time To Use Smart Goals?

Remember not to forcefully fit your goals into the SMART framework if you are working on target performance for current or ongoing projects.

Dan Kiskis, in the article, Are SMART Goals always smart? depicts this phenomenon with a personal experience. 

When he worked as a manager, evaluating staff using the performance evaluation process every year was a given. The HR department created this evaluation process.

The evaluation form came with a precondition of creating 3-5 goals for every member and then evaluating them against those goals.

No doubt, HR wanted the goals to be the SMART ones.

The team developed an analytics dashboard for the business departments. Dan’s staff worked in a transaction processing unit. They would build and deliver the dashboard as and when it was requested.

In a year, the staff would build about 20-40 dashboards. While you can put small projects in the category of ‘completed.’ 

On the other hand, the collection of projects couldn’t fit into the larger category of goals. 

Therefore putting it in members’ performance evaluations was challenging.

All of this was because the nature of the work was primarily recurrent and ongoing. 

With SMART goals, it would have been better to establish operational and critical performance indicators for every individual and then evaluate them against those KPIs.

Finally, Dan remarks that if there were one place where he could use the SMART goals, is where every person would have professional development goals. 

Working with the individual and helping them establish skills or training development goals would be easier.

For example, “Earn a SQL server certification by the next six months” is a great SMART goal.

Six Reasons Why Smart Goal Setting Does Not Work

  1. The focus is too narrow: The SMART goal fixates on a single goal; it becomes easy to fall into the trap of looking at it as the only goal.
  2. Success and failure: Smart goals aren’t specific and measurable. They help when working in a controllable environment. However, the same criteria don’t apply when in dynamic situations.

    When you measure success with a SMART goal, people will pursue that goal for narrowly defined success. It will take over their identity. However, they may feel meaningless if they cannot meet the goal.
  1. Short-term and long-term success: Firms take extreme routes to meet earnings projections. Companies choose SMART goals over their customer’s interests, even when it means sacrificing long-term goals.
  2. All or nothing approach: Since smart goals have their basis in time management when allocating time to a task, it is either all or nothing.

    You can view smart goals as complete entities. Therefore if you don’t reach a specific task, or if anything doesn’t go as planned, you may give up on the entire goal.
  3. Not realizing one’s potential: Sometimes, smart goals can work as a stop sign. It will motivate you to work along the way. However, it can make you fall short of helping you to reach your potential.

    When people set easy goals, it will not help them to move beyond their minimum potential.

    Due to this, you may miss opportunities and never realize what you could have achieved had you set a higher goal.
  4. At what cost?: In SMART goals, realistic and achievable can be misleading. Some self-driven and overly ambitious people can overload themselves with too many tasks.

    Therefore ask yourself this question of ‘at what cost’ when you are pursuing realistic goals such as next high sales, promotion, and so on. 

Now that we know SMART goals don’t always work in your favor, we must have some backup, right? Don’t worry; we got you covered!

We will now discuss how you can make SMART goals smarter and succeed smartly. 


Technical University of Lisbon, Portugal, conducted research that showed that an internal motivator is more important than an external one for weight control.

When your SMART goals don’t involve your emotions, that is, internal motivation, chances of succeeding in completing the task are much low.

Therefore to improve your chance of success, add two more letters to your SMART acronym, and make it SMARTER. 

E= Emotion Based

Add the emotional factor to your goals by answering the following questions:

  1. How is your life right now, and how will it change once you achieve your goal?

You are motivated to do better when considering the possibility of something better.

  1. What are the specific benefits that will result from achieving your goal?

Make a list of benefits from the achievement, answer the question in detail and create a vision board to do the same.

  1. What will you avoid if you are successful in achieving the goal?

This question will help you to seek answers to what you will avoid when you reach success. For example, if you lose weight, you can prevent illnesses. 

  1. What will you feel once you succeed?

Close your eyes and imagine your future. Sink into the positive emotions. 

When you answer the above questions, you focus on the outcome rather than the process of achieving the said outcome. This will add fuel to your goal and will energize your motivation.

R= Resilient

When going gets tough, the tough get going.” This is what resilience is about.

Answer the below two questions to understand your resiliency:

  1. What obstacles will you face when reaching your goal?

When you assess the challenges you may encounter throughout achieving your goal, you are looking at the risk for the outcome.

The clearer you make the obstacles and are open about them, the better you will be prepared for them.

  1. What are the ways to overcome these challenges?

Here, you will have to create plans B, C, D, and so on. You will also, at times, have to adjust your SMART factors. 

Take the goal you are struggling to achieve and plan them as per the SMARTER goals.

S: Specific

M: Measurable

A: Attainable

R: Realistic

T: Time-bound

E: Emotion-based

R: Resilient

Unrealistic and Bold Goals

The potential drawback is that SMART goals can keep you in your comfort zone.

No doubt it will help stretch your capacity, but you won’t go too far. Do you know why? It is because the framework itself comes with the “attainable’ category.

And as humans, our brains will shout out loud, ‘how do you think you can do it? It will also show us times when we couldn’t do it. 

This self-limiting voice stops us from moving or stretching far too broad with thinking and working.

Due to this, we set goals that are in our comfort zone, safer, and achievable without too much stretching.

The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short, but in setting our aim too low and achieving our mark,” says Michelangelo.

Mike Carroll, CEO, and trainer, points out that “exceptional, notable achievements, however, are most often the result of DUMB goals.”

One of the instances of dream-inspired goals was when John. F. Kennedy announced to Congress in 1991 that a man would land on the moon in the next ten years and return home safely.

Imagine if Kennedy had run through this thought using the SMART goal. It would have never seen the light of day.

The dream, the speech, and the eventual accomplishment would never happen if this idea went through the SMART filter.

SMART goals tend to have predictable outcomes and are more process-oriented.

An example of process orientation is when you close a certain number of sales of a particular size for a certain period.

There is a process that the teams will follow in this case and, based on the previous knowledge, will map out activities to reach the goal.

On the other hand, dumb or dream-inspired goals are ‘possibly oriented’ in nature. They will also lead to transformation and exceptional outcomes.

A good example would be Google’s mission statement, “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

We know that “growth and comfort cannot co-exist.” And “discomfort is where growth lies.”

Therefore develop SMART goals, but don’t shy away from including one or two bold goals.


When pursuing your purpose and dream, having a broad vision helps. SMARTER goals will work as checkpoints in the journey and keep you on the right path.

We aren’t saying smart goals aren’t effective. They are helpful when adequately planned. However, it is always essential to understand both viewpoints on a particular topic.

Now that you know the two sides of setting smart goals and better ways to use them go ahead and achieve anything you set your mind to!

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