Could your S.M.A.R.T. Goals be D.U.M.B.?

I regularly hear clients and colleagues talk about the “best practice” of making your strategic goals S.M.A.R.T., meaning specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. S.M.A.R.T. is a good framework to test that our goals are well formulated.  However, I observe many organizations struggling with HOW to make them S.M.A.R.T.  In their attempt to do the “right thing”, they often pull information out of the air or based on assumptions. For example, they have a goal to increase customer loyalty.  They then remember that they have to make the goal S.M.A.R.T., so they tag on “35% by 2018”.

Let’s take a closer look at how this creates problems with execution:


Is “customer loyalty” really specific?  Not if you think of how many ways you could actually interpret it.   Perhaps you want to increase how often the customer shops at the store, or perhaps it is how much they spend on each visit, or maybe it is how often they refer the store to their friends.  So which one is most important? It fails the “specific” test.  Whenever you use jargon or vague ideals in your goals, you will fail the specific test.


Is “customer loyalty” measureable? As described above, it could be measurable in a lot of different ways and you have not been specific enough to know which way is most meaningful to your organization. As we noted, S.M.A.R.T. is a good framework to test if your goal is well formulated, but it is NOT a framework for making sure your performance measures are well formulated. Rather, well-formulated performance measures are the “M”.   So let’s quickly look at a definition that Stacey Barr, the performance measurement specialist suggests:

A performance measure is a comparison that provides objective evidence of the degree to which a performance result is occurring over time.

To create a performance measure that satisfies this definition, we need to be deliberate in our approach to designing our measures.  We need a specific deliberate process to design and implement true performance measures; and then, we will have the reliable baseline data that allows us to meaningfully determine the “A=Attainable” and “T=Time-bound”.

And what about the “R=Relevant”?

In my experience people often gloss over the “R” assuming that since we have a goal, it must be relevant (meaning closely connected or appropriate to the matter at hand).  Yet, when I observe people putting information into the goal just to make sure it is S.M.A.R.T., often it loses its relevance.  People see the lack of specificity, the “target” and “time-bound” that was stuck onto the end, then tune-out the whole goal all together, leaving it in the dust-bin of failed execution.

So did your desire to have your goal meet the S.M.A.R.T. guidelines actually make it D.U.M.B?

D = Disappointingly Vague

U = Unreliable baseline data to set targets

M = Meaninglessly measurable

B = Beyond Implementation

Tip: Don’t rush to make your goal SMART just because it is considered “best-practice” by someone. If you are guessing, be aware it will likely end up DUMB.

So here’s a smarter way:

  • Use the PuMP® measurability test to take your vague, weasely goals and translate them into results that are truly S=Specific and R=Relevant
  • Use the PuMP® measure design process to deliberately design a measure that allows you to quantify even the most seemingly immeasurable goals, thus making the goal M=Measurable
  • But before you can make it A=attainable, R=realistic, and T=time-bound, you need to define exactly how you are going to bring that measure to life, then collect the data with enough data points to answer the question “what is performance currently doing?” Only then can you set a target that you truly know is attainable or stretch.

Louise Watson is Canada’s Licensed Consultant for PuMP® Performance Measurement Blueprint, as well as a strategist at heart. PuMP® was created by Stacey Barr, the performance measurement specialist living in Brisbane, Australia.