The SMART goal setting framework. Does it need an upgrade?

It’s every personal development connoisseur's favorite time of year. The new year is upon us, and it’s time to start setting some goals.

I commonly see posts with headlines saying something along the lines of… “forget SMART goals, embrace [insert catchy acronym here] instead.” I typically ignore these alternatives. But this year, I’ve taken a closer look. Is there something to these other options?

To clarify, SMART goal setting stands for specific (clear and well-defined), measurable (objective outcome), attainable (stretch but not impossible), realistic (consideration of context), and time-bound (embedded deadlines).

FAST (frequently discussed, ambitious, specific, transparent) goals, for example, are indicative of one category of alternatives. The difference with these alternatives is that they recognize the importance of embedding one’s SMART goals within a social system. FAST goals just offer an important reminder that SMART goals have a higher likelihood of success when one gets feedback from, and is held accountable, by others.

OKRs (objectives and key results) are a great example of another category of alternatives. OKRs were popularized by many of the tech titans as a way to stay agile and accountable from quarter to quarter and year to year. Once again, the premise of SMART goal setting remains. The key difference is recognizing that one’s SMART goals are embedded within a hierarchical system. Our non-work goals are tied to our family goals. Our professional goals are tied to our team and organizational goals.

SMART goals are the gold standard and this framework is here to stay. This approach stems from goal setting theory and has been replicated as being effective within 40+ years of research. The new goal setting frameworks aren’t wrong - they’re actually still using SMART goals, and just plugging them into specific contexts.

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