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In this article, we consider the goal-setting process and support for the concept of SMART goals.
Part 1 of this article considered the myth of the Yale study on goal setting and we discussed what a goal is and if it is necessary to have one.
Perhaps it’s not really about knowing your goal but about the goal-setting process. After all, few people who find themselves staring at a computer screen all day answering emails to earn a buck are likely to have decided this as their career goal.
What is goal setting? Inadvertently, or deliberately, people asking us when young “what do you want to be…” have set us on a process of goal-setting. They are asking us to peer in our mind’s eye into the distant future and describe our goal. With little worldly experience, we most likely think of people we admire that through their job demonstrate what is valuable to our young minds.
What would you like to achieve in X years that having achieved it will satisfy your personal values? Would you ask a ten year old that question? No? It’s unlikely that they would understand – but with the massive leaps in education and increasing pressure on children to know a whole lot more than the current generation of mature adults, they may well be asking you that question and be surprised if you can’t answer it. I digress, but we are effectively asking that when we say “what would you like to be…”
Goal-setting is a process by which we choose our intended result, decide what we want to achieve in the longer-term AND determine HOW we are going to attain the goal (i.e., the strategy). Therein lies the problem for many people in regard to goal-setting… the process necessarily includes the strategy to achieve the goal. When relatives with kind intentions ask “what do you want to be…” the strategy they advise to achieve whatever you said, invariably refers back to the need to study hard, be a good child, don’t answer back and above all… “eat your greens!” As you get older, the advice may become more specific and even, more useful. You begin to discover which areas of knowledge and skill you most enjoy and are better equipped to clarify your personal goal as you become increasingly aware of what is important to you. Goal-setting for your career, life and business is strongly advocated and endorsed in hundreds of books and papers and articles. Most emphasise the importance of writing your goals down as part of the goal-setting process.
Is goal-setting important?
Ask almost anyone about the importance of goal-setting and they will affirm that it is incredibly important. Here is a small selection of verbatim responses to the question “How important is goal-setting?” “The difference between successful people [and people struggling] is the setting of tangible and measurable goals.” “I believe goal setting does work and needs to be written down. ” “If there are no set goals, things either happen, or they don’t.” “With measurable goals you are in action to fulfill them” “… there’s no excuse for failing to progress if you don’t take ownership of your own goals” “Setting yourself some goals is always going to be effective” “I have been setting goals for myself for over 10 years. I believe that the goals enable me to achieve the things that I want” “People who are successful tend to be the same sort that write down goals” So there seems to be consensus that goal-setting is important, yet there is some evidence to support it, yet, as we shall see, from research undertaken for this study, having written the goal down is perhaps not the most important concern. What we will see is that the process of goal-setting is perhaps more important than the goal itself! There is some strong support for the concept of SMART goals. Goals that are Specific and Stretching, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-bound. There’s a great deal of common sense reasoning that supports the idea of SMART goals – and there’s some excellent robust research.
Why set goals?
Edwin Lock and Gary Latham have undertaken a great deal of leading research about goals and goal-setting and neatly suggest that setting goals implies dissatisfaction with the current condition and a desire to attain an outcome Locke and Latham, 2006.
Why Specific and Stretching?
In Locke and Latham’s 2006 study and previous articles, there is an emphasis on the positive relationship between goal difficulty and performance. Locke and Latham, 1990; Locke and Latham, 2002. That is, the more difficult the goal is to achieve, the higher the level of performance is manifest – allbeit moderated by commitment to the goal. Earlier studies had already identified that specific and difficult goals led to greater performance than easy and/or vague goals Latham and Lee, 1986
Commitment to achieving a goal – Attainable and Realistic
Hollenbeck and Klein, 1987 suggest that an individual’s commitment to a goal (building on Locke’s research and many others) is dependent on a combination of the expectancy that the individual has of achieving success, and the difficulty of achieving the goal. In the commonly used nemonic, SMART goals, this is usually considered as the ‘AR’ of SMART – Attainable and Realistic. Though Hollenbeck and Klein help point out that when we set a goal, it may well seem that the goal is attainable – I can do everything that I need to do to achieve this and am prepared for the cost in time, effort, etc. – and it may well seem to be realistic – Given the resources that I have and the current environment, this goal can be practically achieved.
Measurable and Time-bound?
I don’t think it would be possible to undertake research on something that had no measure nor a time restriction – how would you know that you had achieved success if there was no measure, and if there is no time limit, when would you stop measuring or even not measuring. So these remain ‘common sense’ though a post-modernist might disagree.
So there is support for the concept of SMART goals – now why is it so important that we ‘write’ them down?
There are some who suggest that writing something down increases commitment to the goal but the evidence is anecdotal. For some individuals, the act of writing something down assists clarity through a conscious process because they consider something written to be a personal commitment. Does that mean it is true for everyone? To help answer this, we undertook primary research to mirror the mythical Yale Study. Through a simple questionnaire, respondents were asked if they had set goals for themself on leaving school, college or university, when this was and if they had written it down. They were then asked to estimate their total personal wealth now. The results are quite shocking.
More in Part 3
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