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John Blakey

John Blakey Ltd

Challenging Coaching - Going beyond traditional coaching to face the FACTS

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SMART goals are comfort zone goals – its official!


As you set your goals for the coming year you might find it useful to read the LeadershipIQ white paper – Are SMART goals dumb. This US based leadership and training firm surveyed over 4,000 workers across 397 organisations to find out whether SMART goals (usually defined as specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound) really do drive great achievements or do they keep us safely in our comfort zones. The results of this research suggest SMART goals all too often act as impediments to – not enablers of – bold action and actually encourage mediocre and poor performance.

Here are the more detailed findings of the research:-

  • Only 15% of employees strongly agreed that their goals help them achieve great things.
  • Only 13% of employees strongly agreed that their goals this year helped them maximize their full potential

“Hold on a minute,” SMART goals seem to say. “Don’t push beyond your resources, don’t bite off more than you can chew, play it safe and stay within your comfort zone” But if SMART goal-setting approaches are not working then what is the alternative? The researchers went on to further analyse their results identifying the factors that do drive the achievement of great outcomes. Here are the top eight factors in order of statistical significance that this further research revealed:-

  • I can vividly picture how great it will feel when I achieve my goals.
  • I will have to learn new skills to achieve my assigned goals for this year.
  • My goals are absolutely necessary to help this company.
  • I actively participated in creating my goals for this year.
  • I have access to any formal training that I will need to accomplish my goals.
  • My goals for this year will push me out of my comfort zone.
  • My goals will enrich the lives of somebody besides me (customers, the community, etc.).
  • My goals are aligned with the organization’s top priorities for this year.

Reading through these factors I started mapping them to the courageous goal-setting process and the FACTS coaching model Ian and I have written about in ‘Challenging Coaching’. There is a significant overlap. Both approaches encourage stepping out of the comfort zone to dream. As the LeadershipIQ researchers put it –  ’For a goal to help people achieve great things, that goal has to leap off the paper. It has to be so vividly described that people can feel how great it will be to achieve it. It has to sing to them, to touch the deepest recesses of their brain.When was the last time your goals did that?’

But more surprisingly the above eight factors link strongly to the ‘S’ of our FACTS coaching model – systems thinking. It is clear from the research that individuals want their goals to contribute to something bigger than themselves – the company, customers, the community at large. This outcome challenges the stereotype of the selfish employee seeking to maximise their own personal gain, disregarding the impact on others and unaware of the bigger picture context of their work.

Unfortunately, for many of my corporate clients the SMART goal-setting mindset is baked into their procedures and policies whether it be the business plan template or the performance appraisal tick-list. This will not change overnight but research such as this should encourage individual leaders and coaches to stretch further than meeting this minimum level of future-gazing. As we contemplate our own goals and discuss goals with our teams and clients we should be seeking to butt up against the comfort zone of our own and other people’s thinking, to add a layer of courageous goal-setting on top of our default SMART perspective. Only in this way will we discover goals that make the collective heart sing.

Please add your thoughts and comments via our challenging coaching linkedin group

Author Profile Picture
John Blakey

Challenging Coaching - Going beyond traditional coaching to face the FACTS

Read more from John Blakey

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