When SMART Meets HARD: Setting Goals that Matter

Written by Andrea Williams, MSU HR Organization & Professional Development

Increased engagement. Improved performance. Greater job satisfaction. We can all agree these are desirable states for ourselves, and if we’re supervisors, for our employees as well. Goal setting, when thoughtfully conducted, is a primary way we set up ourselves and others for achievement, innovation and fulfillment. So, how do we create meaningful goals? Goal-setting methodologies like the SMART and HARD frameworks can help.

Setting Goals

At MSU, goals are often established as a component of Performance Excellence, with clear performance goals and objectives identified and communicated at the beginning, as well as throughout, the performance process. Goals identify what is expected and create ways to strive for improvement and growth.

There are two types of goals to consider: performance goals and development goals.

  • Performance goals are typically short-term objectives that could be accomplished in a fiscal year and are related to current position job duties.
  • Development goals are related to a skill or knowledge area that will be strengthened. They might include training or experiences that will help the individual develop further into their role or career.

In other words, performance goals are something you will achieve, and development goals are something you will learn. Whether the goal is related to performance or development, it should support the mission of the university, your department and/or a specific project or program.

Making Goals SMART

To create meaningful goals, one approach is to make the goals SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely.

  • Specific: well defined, clear and unambiguous; specifically defining what’s expected to be done/delivered. 
  • Measurable: specific criteria for measuring progress toward accomplishing each established goal.
  • Achievable: requires effort — a stretch — but are not impossible to achieve.
  • Relevant: goals are related to the department’s mission and/or a specific project or program.
  • Timely: the time frame is clearly defined or progress toward achievement is tracked at regular intervals.

For example, an initial goal to Complete report on time could be reworked as a SMART goal by adding an action verb and specific details. The goal then becomes Complete finance report, without errors, by COB on the first Friday of each month. SMART goals follow achievable and realistic guidelines and typically make it easy to demonstrate whether a goal ultimately is reached.

The potential downside? With a primary focus on being realistic and achievable, SMART goals may encourage us to “play it safe” and work within set limitations, which can feel counterproductive and uninspiring in the current culture of innovation and boldness.

Beyond SMART: HARD

If you or your employees find yourself lacking motivation when using SMART goals, try creating goals that are HARD: Heartfelt, Animated, Required and Difficult.

  • Heartfelt: achieving the goal will enrich the lives of others (e.g., customers, the community); attachment can be formed to the goal on a deep, meaningful level.
  • Animated:vivid picture is created of how it will feel when the goal is achieved; the results and impact of the goal can be visualized, and a strong emotional connection is established.
  • Required: a sense of urgency is present, and we want to take action right away; the goals are necessary to help our organization.
  • Difficult: new skills must be learned, and we’re challenged to stretch beyond our comfort zones for success.

The potential downside? Setting HARD goals typically cannot be done with the speed and simplicity of creating SMART goals, leading to a greater time and energy investment.

Creating Goals that Matter

If you find the goals you set are not leading to the results you want, try utilizing the SMART or HARD frameworks or, even better, apply elements from both to create goals that drive and engage fully. Creating “stretch” goals makes our objectives vital to the university and allows us to drive innovation and boldness. Whether you prefer SMART or HARD, strive to create goals that don’t just look good on paper but leap off the page to truly inspire.

Sources:

MSU Human Resources. Goal Setting Tips. Retrieved August 15, 2020 from https://hr.msu.edu/ua/performanceexcellence/tools-goalsetting.html

Murphy, M. Are SMART Goals Dumb? Retrieved August 18, 2020 from https://www.leadershipiq.com/blogs/leadershipiq/35353793-are-smart-goals-dumb