Is the Organizational Focus a SMART Goal Challenge?

by Jul 30, 2019Challenges, Coaching, Goals, Organizational & Workplace Learning, Reflective Practice0 comments

Yesterday I invited us to consider if anything seems somehow distancing or not quite right about how we perceive SMART Goals. One way of considering this involves being aware of when our eyes sometimes glaze over or we have an immediate reaction when we hear them used in the workplace.

Be present to these feelings or immediate thoughts — there is often something hidden there we may want to unearth and explore.

For example, when I did this activity myself, I immediately thought about how SMART Goals are not entirely my goals, given how my workplace tells me to create them.

AND THAT is precisely one of the challenges with them.

The Organizational Focus is a Challenge to SMART

When we hear or think SMART goals, what often comes to mind? Right . . . those annual things we are told to do based on what our organization (company, division, team, etc.) wants us to strive toward in the next year.

Let’s deconstruct what is happening.

The organization sets its own goals, or rather somebody within a leadership position creates the goals for the organization. This is what the organization wants to achieve in the next year. Hey, it a good thing to work towards some vision of the future we want to create, right? Check.

The next step is for them to trickle down to the rest of us. “These are our company goals, what we want to accomplish in the next year. Make yours align with these.” Hopefully these all relate to organizational strategy, mission, and vision, but we’ll leave that for another conversation(!).

I am then asked to develop my own goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound, yet still have them connect, or roll-up, to the organizational goals, the same ones I was given. This way, my goals will be aligned with the organizational ones.

So, while they are generally my goals as I am the one who sets them (albeit with my supervisor’s input and approval), they are expected to connect with those larger, organization-wide goals that were set for me. This is the case regardless of my input, agreement, or belief that those are the right ones for us or not. It is not my company, so in many ways I am given my direction. Makes sense on many levels, however many of the goals are those I would never have developed had I not been asked to come up with them.

So, the question becomes, whose goals are these, really?

The strongest SMART goals are those that serve both me and my employer, but make no mistake — the organizational focus on them invites us to question who are they really SMART for? This is by no means a problem in itself, but more a concern for the organizational focus for these goals.

AND a transparency of what we are really doing.

How I relate to them and frame my own prioritization is ultimately up to me, though if I want to continue working in this or that organization, then I will also need to gain employer input, and ultimately approval of them on behalf of our shared, organizational good.

So, they are part my goals and part my organization’s. Given this, I am the one tasked, and thus accountable, for achieving them.

Sooooo, who are they really SMART for?


[This post is part of an ongoing series exploring SMART Goals, those that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound, and how they can be applied to individual professional development needs.]

I help people navigate their learning needs and take informed action, so in many ways I live the world of SMART Goals every day with many levels of interest and influence. However, I know that many still find this difficult to work through on their own, due to having goal challenges for all sorts of reasons. If you find yourself struggling to write out or commit to your goals, I am happy to chat through a free 30-minute coaching consult. This is in itself often enough to help people clarify their direction and work through their stuck places, yet if you find you may want or need some ongoing support or accountability, I do offer that through my educational consulting or coaching work.


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About Me

Jeffrey M. Keefer, Ph.D., is an educational consultant, institutional researcher and accreditation officer in higher education, professor of research methodology, nonprofit capacity building and strategic planning consultant, talent development coach, spiritual life advisor (chaplain) at New York University, spiritual director, and Wikipedian.