Continuing our exploration of challenges to the notion and practice of SMART Goals, after the one I recently wrote related to the goals being more for my organization than for me, we come to the ever-present conflict that all project managers face.

How do we build goals or projects knowing that our context changes?

That may always be a risk we seek to mitigate, but goals are based on the current context, systems, competitors, economic conditions, and overall context that exist when we develop the goals. Remember the adage, if you fail to develop, then you succeed in dying? Welcome to that conflict.

Developing SMART Goals assume a certain contextual stability, and while we all know things change, somehow our goals rarely keep up with them. Ever write out your goals at Goal Time, never to look at them again until next year? Perhaps, if lucky, you have a supervisor who reviews them quarterly or bi-annually?

How often have things changed, so the goal is no longer doable, and thus it is marked complete as that is best we could do given the situation?

Not ideal, but SMART Goals are based on what we know now and the best assumptions for what will come in the near (however you define that) future. Often not enough shifts in our lives or our work, so we seek to do what we committed to doing, yet frequently this is not possible. This does not make them wrong or mean we do not do due diligence when using them, rather this is a limitation that should be acknowledged up front. After all, without acknowledging them we can otherwise commit to something that is really not possible, or short-sighted to the point of being unrealistic.

And THAT is not very SMART at all!

[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.