SMART Goals – a Reminder

Most managers, leaders and coaches have heard of SMART goals so here is a reminder of what that acronym stands for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Agreed (others say attainable or achievable – but to me that is realistic – see below)
  • Realistic
  • Time Bounded

A quick google search will reveal thousands of articles on SMART goals, however, the not very often quoted acronyms of PURE and CLEAR I will give some detail on, as there is little written on them.  Incidentally, I first discovered these some years back in Sir John Whitmore’s most excellent book Performance Coaching, so I can’t take the credit for these inventions.

PURE Goals

Let’s start with PURE goals.  The abbreviation stands for:

  • Positively Stated
  • Understood
  • Relevant
  • Ethical

Positively stated finds its origins in the world of NLP.  It is important that you express what it is you are trying to achieve in the positive.  Let me give you some examples.  ” I will be 14 stone and 2 pounds by June 19th” as opposed to “I don’t want to be fat” or “I want to stop gaining weight”.  Another one might be “I am becoming more punctual” rather than ” I must stop being late”, I’m sure you get the idea.  But look at these goals for a moment – what is your attention on as you set that goal? I won’t go into how this works on a subconscious level, but suffice to say it is important because we programme ourselves for success – that is what the “P” in NLP stands for – Programming.  We feed instructions to our subconscious mind in our every waking minute.  The subconscious doesn’t know how to NOT do something, but yet many of my clients come to me with what I call “Stopping Goals”.  So my first task is to always get them to express their goals in the positive.  ‘Nuff said.

It is important that our goals are understood especially if you as a leader or manager are setting goals for your direct reports.  What assumptions are being made about the goal, do we understand the wider implications of the goal?  This to my mind this is why many change efforts fail because people don’t really understand the goals they have been asked to achieve. Lack of understanding may imply confusion and this will lead to poor or little follow through on the goal.

When we talk about our goals being relevant, what I am meaning here are the wider implications of the goal.  Agile leaders and managers focus on fewer priorities and achieve them with a greater rate of success than their counterparts who have many more priorities.  If we focus on one or two priorities in any given time frame we go ahead and set the goals that are relevant to the wider goals or vision.

Ethical is an interesting one because this can be very subjective in that what might be seen as ethical for one person is not so for another.  So we need to align ourselves with what is important to us and with what we feel are just and worthy goals.  I know of salespeople who just don’t believe in what they are selling and as such their sense of ethics are challenged.  This does have a serious impact on their performance and their ability to achieve their goals.


So what are CLEAR goals?  CLEAR stands for:

  • Challenging
  • Legal
  • Environmentally sound
  • Appropriate
  • Recorded

To my mind, I find the most effective goals are the most challenging goals.  These are the goals that make us jump out of bed in the morning and push us to greater levels of achievement.  When we lose the challenge in our work we tend to switch off and many of our capabilities lie dormant. Being challenged pushes us to bring all of ourselves to the game and engenders a deeper level of excitement and adventure.  There is so much more I can say about this one attribute, but I’m sure you understand the point.

Legal: Do I need to say anything about this, it does relate to ethical but is not the same.  We can argue about the ethics of casino’s and prostitution, but these may be legal or illegal depending on which side of a state or country border you are standing on. Ethics are personal, legality is the law.

Relating again to ethics, environmentally sound is a very personal perspective and may require some thought by the individual as to the appropriateness of the goal.  Many organisations have made commitments that are highly commendable from an environmental perspective.  But how many organisations would cease to exist if they set inappropriate goals?  The responsibility of the board of directors (or their equivalent) is for the well being of the organisation, so setting inappropriate goals would be at odds with their remit.  It isn’t always easy for a leader who is facing a personal crisis because their ethics are challenged, much soul-searching, exploration and clarification are needed to resolve these deep values conflicts.  But staying with this unease and working through it builds stronger and more resilient leaders.

Goals that are recorded have a much greater chance of being completed and successful and I seem to remember reading somewhere that this has been scientifically proven.  Are your goals written down?  I’m not referring to a dot on a chart that predicts where we will be in the future.  No, our goals do need to be written down and visible.   Committing our goals to paper does help us to programme ourselves to achieve them and keeps them at the forefront of our mind.  Much inner magic will start to work when you write your goals down as your subconscious mindsets to work on solving this problem for you.