Use SMART goals and HARD goals and achieve high performance

Use SMART goals and HARD goals and achieve high performance
Use SMART Goals and HARD Goals and Achieve High Performance

Dr Edwin Locke’s pioneering research many decades ago connected setting goals and objectives with high performance.  Today, ‘SMART goals’ is a concept we’re likely familiar with.  Less known is the recent concept of ‘HARD goals’.

By the end of this post we’ll have a working knowledge of both models.


‘SMART goals’ as a term is used often in organisations.  Even though the term is slightly overused today, SMART goals have earned a strong place in goal setting activities.  This clever acronym allows us to quickly check whether any goal we’ve written is constructed well enough to be useful:

■ S for Specific: Has the goal clearly defined what needs to be achieved? Useful questions to ask at this level are how much, what kind, and who will action.

■ M for Measurable: Goals are most effective when they describe an outcome that can be measured   For example, let’s say our goal is to run a half-marathon. This has a specific measure.  We will know if we have run a half-marathon when we’ve covered a distance of 21 kms (or 13.1miles) in a single run. We can use ‘measurement’ to make this goal even more effective, by adding time (eg. run the distance in 1:50 hours). Making goals measurable lifts performance by giving us a clear target to work toward.

 A for Actionable/Achievable: Does the goal have a clear pathway for action? Is the goal within your control and ability to influence? Do you have the required skills to achieve the goal, or is it realistic that you can acquire those skills within the timeframe you wish to achieve the goal?

 R for Relevant: Is the goal relevant to your overall objectives? If the goal is a personal one, the question might be whether the goal is aligned with your life ambition for the next 5 to 10 years. If it is a business goal, you might ask how the goal takes your department or organisation one step closer to its mission?

■ T for Time bound: Within what timeframe will the goal be achieved? The simple process of setting ourselves a timeframe for a goal gives us a deadline to work to.

HARD goals

As researchers seek out new goal setting methods, ‘HARD goals’ have received attention.

The concept of a ‘hard goal’ has been around for a long time.  It refers to a goal that is specific and challenging, as opposed to a ‘soft goal’ which is general and vague (eg. my goal is to ‘do better’).

More recently though, Mark Murphy of Leadership IQ turned this concept into the acronym of HARD goals, which stands for:

■ H for Heartfelt: Do you have an emotional attachment to the goal? Does it move you toward a desired future or help you prevent an undesirable one? The stronger your attachment or ‘sense of heart’ for the goal, the more likely you’ll be to pursue it.

■  A for Animated: This is about visualising the goal. The form this might take is putting up ‘mood boards’ on the wall to help you see how the world would look if you achieved this goal.  Or, simply closing your eyes for a moment and picturing how your life would be different once the goal was achieved.  Being ‘animated’ is about ‘connecting with the goal’ in a deep way. The more we are able to create a strong picture of life as though the goal has been achieved, the more magnetic that future will become for us…and the more we’ll want to work toward the goal.

■ R for Required: Is the goal absolutely necessary for your own or your company’s success? For example, if you run an eCommerce website and online sales are low, a goal to increase online sales would be a high requirement.

■  D for Difficult: We all love a challenge, don’t we?  Goals that require us to learn new skills and expand ourselves are an inspiration.  To succeed with this criterion the goal needs to be sufficiently difficult to move us from our comfort zone.  This is aligned with the concept of Finding Flow discussed in an earlier post.

So which model gives the best performance?

In my view any method (whether SMART or HARD goals) that helps us rapidly ‘check’ whether we have constructed goals that are meaningful and purposeful is a good one.

The true secret of goal creation for high performance is to be specific and vivid enough that we can take clear action in pursuit of what we desire. In this way, both SMART and HARD goals serve a purpose.

Personally, I like to draw on both models when creating goals. I like the simplicity of SMART goals and the speed with which this method can be used. And, I like the way HARD goals encourage us to create the feeling and emotion associated with our goals, so we can connect with them in a way that drives motivation.

Question: Are your goals SMART or HARD goals? Which model (or both) would you prefer to use? Leave a comment by clicking here.

I'm a digital strategist and channel manager with 15 years experience in digital, across marketing, e-commerce, online sales, digital and mobile app strategy. Companies I've worked for include Coles, ANZ and GlaxoSmithKline. I'm also a graduate and previous sessional lecturer of Strategic Foresight at Swinburne University.
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