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Are SMART Goals Outdated?

Let's give SMART Goals a Revamp.

January brings chilly winds from the North and often marks the beginning of a new fiscal year for many in corporate America. Many use this month to prepare annual employee goals. The business climate caused by the COVID-19 pandemic

in 2020 forced many companies to decide overnight how to proceed with evaluating goals in the middle of a crisis. Companies addressed this issue on the fly but have time this year to consider how to handle future goal setting with grace. It is worthwhile to evaluate your current goal setting process for 2021 to ensure your company has the flexibility to make rapid changes if the situation arises.

SMART goals have commonly been used to set thoughtful goals. The acronym helps an employee prepare thorough objectives by making sure they meet these criteria: specific, meaningful, achievable, relevant and timebound. What the tool does not account for is the massive fluctuations seen in many industries last year. It may be more meaningful to alter this formula, so that “A” stands for “Adaptable.”

In theory, the employee does not lose any meaningful content if using this new and improved SMART format. In other words, a SMART goal that meets the relevant condition would also be achievable. The goal writer is just including a little wiggle room to reevaluate goals throughout the year without an adverse effect on their performance. This can be best achieved by employees and managers meeting quarterly to review and address any relevant changes to goals. As additional food for thought, this may also be an opportunity for companies to evaluate whether they want to tie goal metrics to specific compensation or bonus structures – a practice that may be adversely affecting business development or sales teams.

Adaptable goals allow for changes outside of the business realm as well. Employee mental health has been called into the spotlight this year as companies strive to keep employees engaged. Companies are looking for ways to build virtual cultures and getting more involved in supporting an employee’s multifaceted life – one that may include family or parental care, teaching duties, or increased isolation. Would your company be open to allowing goal adjustments for an individual who was dealing with a sick child? Or a parent who adjusted their schedule so they could double up as a teacher in the morning? Adaptable goals are built to ride the ups and downs of an employee’s life.

A company commitment to adaptable goals tells employees that you value them as a whole person – not just the part that provides benefit to the business. This tells employees you want to involve them in this conversation moving forward and stay connected. Being transparent says a lot at a time when many are feeling job insecure with the US unemployment rate rising.

How has your company made goal setting more flexible?


Spawn, L. (January 29, 2020). Four Strategies For Setting Measurable Goals In A Remote Work Environment. Forbes.

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