Why “SMART” goals aren't always smart—and what to do instead

Your SMART goals may not be so smart after all, writes Mark Murphy, author and founder of Leadership IQ, for CNBC.

Murphy and Leadership IQ recently conducted a study of more than 4,000 employees and their goal-setting processes. And the results suggest that just 15% of employees believe the goals they set this year would "help them achieve great things."

Murphy writes that SMART goals—that is, goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound—may actually limit opportunities for employees to grow and develop. For example, Murphy's study suggests that "achievable" and "realistic" goals don’t encourage employees to step outside of their comfort zones.

And according to additional research by Leadership IQ, just 42% of employees say they are always or frequently learning on the job, while 39% say they are never or rarely learning at work.

So rather than setting SMART goals, Murphy suggests employees looking to challenge themselves and grow at work should answer the following three questions each month:

Question #1: What skills do I want to learn?

While most employees only focus on learning new skills when searching for a new job, Murphy argues that employees should constantly be developing and growing their skillsets. "It's amazing all the ways we take stock of our skills and improve ourselves when we're in a transition," he writes. "But there's no reason to wait until a big life change to improve yourself."

Each month, Murphy recommends learning something new—whether it be a skill you haven’t made time for in the past or a program you are familiar with but want to master. He recommends asking yourself, "What could I do right now and get results?"

Learn more: To be happy at work, set "anti-goals"

Question #2: What is something I have improved on since last month?

Murphy writes that these improvements can be small. For instance, maybe you've learned a shortcut for a program you use frequently, or maybe you've learned to be more patient in dealing with a frustrating colleague. Regardless, acknowledging your accomplishments allows you to "remind yourself how you've pushed yourself and inspire yourself to push your limits once again," writes Murphy.

Question #3: How can I share my skills?

"Once you start acquiring and recognizing all your incredible skills, you need to find some outlet to showcase them," writes Murphy. He recommends looking for opportunities where you can share what you've learned with colleagues to ultimately help them grow their own skillsets. "You'll discover your colleagues are equally eager to learn—and teach what they've mastered," he adds (Murphy, CNBC, 10/16).

Also see: The mistake everyone (including you) makes when pursuing goals


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