startups and code

Goal setting - FAST vs SMART

Back to home

In the middle of last year MIT released an article about FAST is better than SMART. I'll explain the basics and then give my thoughts on the matter.

SMART goals came up in the 80's by George Doran, but Drucker introduced "management by objectives" in the 50's. What it stands for is: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Based. A quick translation, make your goal as specific as possible and not have ambiguity in what you are trying to achieve. Measurable, how do you measure your success. Achievable (this was originally assignable but has morphed into this) make it something that is possible. Relevant, this I've heard as realistic which lines up with achievable, but this is to make sure it is relevant, in most cases relevant to write on your review :-), and Time based, my favorite quote about this is:

A goal without a deadline is just a dream

Robert Herjavec

Now you know what SMART goals are, let's look at FAST goals.

FAST goes like this: Frequently discussed, Ambitious, Specific, and Transparent. The ONLY one that overlaps is specific. In FAST, they added the time-based and measurable to the specific. They removed realistic and replaced it with ambitious to push people outside of their comfort zone. I do agree with that, people who are lazy will set low expectations and meet the criteria without pushing themselves to greater things. The lazy ones are some of the best at gaming the system of reviews to succeed with little effort. The transparent is so everyone can hold you accountable and the frequently discussed is your check-ins on progress and course-correction when needed.

Ok, now my thoughts on the whole goal-setting acronym war. It is some pathetic attempt to get published, create a buzz about some so-called "new" idea on goal setting to help you manage your teams better and allow the "creator" of this new idea to go on a speaker tour to explain how amazing he is for creating a new acronym to expedite your management style.

I call bullshit.

Goal setting happens on a daily basis since birth for me. My first goals, to walk and talk, then to drink out of a real cup, hold a spoon, write my name, dress myself, go to kindergarten, learn how to read, the list goes on. Did I need a manager to make sure I stayed on task, that I was time-boxed to accomplish those goals on time? NO. I was driven internally to accomplish those goals.

Ok, let's jump forward to my first job in High School, I was a cashier at a grocery store. I scanned items and balanced my till at the end of my shift. My goal was to beat my scan items/per minute from my last shift and still have a perfect till balance. Did my manager set that goal for me? NO. Did I have a weekly meeting to discuss my items per minute? NO. I did it because it was fun for me to get better.

Moving forward again to my first job after college, I had a CEO who asked me to copy floppies for our product. Yes I had a computer science degree and was copying floppy disks as my first job. What did I do? I invested my first paycheck on a clone machine and automated the process. Not because I was told to, set up a goal, but I thought it was silly to do it manually and not as accurate when I could automate it. No discussions, no paperwork, no check-ins except for the "are they done?" comment.

What does this illustrate? Hire self-motivated people who believe in doing the right thing quickly, but not rushed. That they have the self-awareness to ask questions when they aren't sure. That they will achieve results without micromanagement. Your initial hires are more important than correcting them by some management tactic.

I think these techniques are to help manage people who are lazy, unfocused, and do not believe in what their job is providing for the company that they don't believe in either. You know how to resolve that? Fire them and find someone who is interested in working with you.

I think we attempt to come up with so many ways to allow an employee to coast. We setup performance improvement plans (PIPs), we have weekly meetings, sometimes daily check-ins, we write notes about goals and get signatures for agreement, we send a plethora of emails for documentation, and the amount of time we spend on trying to fix an employee, we could have hired a more motivated individual. There is ramp-up time, but if they are motivated, they will take it on full-steam and may even impress you.

We are, by nature, wanting to help others and we feel a need to help a struggling employee. Our perception of them struggling may be their end-game. They are good doing mediocre work and not learning something new. Not everyone has the same drive as you do. Not everyone will. It is also something that is difficult to teach.

We don't need another management book to tell us how to fix those employees. We don't need another process to deliver faster results. We simply need to learn to pay attention to what IS happening, not what could happen. We all have it in us to succeed. The question to ask your employees is do you want to succeed with us or with someone else?

My goal setting technique is simple - Write it down, Do it, Cross it off. Repeat. If it is more complicated, break it down and WDCR... Let's see if I can make that into a fun acronym. WAFL - Write it, Assess It, Finish It, Laugh. Oh, I like that.

  • W - Write it down and make it visible
  • A - Assess it, how are you going to do it, how long will it take, and work with others to help you figure this out if needed.
  • F - Finish it EARLY, starting is easy, but finishing is key to success
  • L - Laugh Out Loud - You accomplished it! Enjoy the success Laughter creates Joy and Joy creates enthusiasm and enthusiasm creates a great employee.

So there is my silly acronym, watch this go viral LOL.... Stop chasing a new technique and deliver great work daily. You are capable.

Now go out there and get to WAFLing. ;-)