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SMAART Goals (no typo)

January 26, 2022 by Twan van de Kerkhof

Leaders love goals. They want to set clear milestones for how and when their organization achieve their ambitions. Most leaders make their goals SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound.

Good idea, write Paul Polman and Andrew Winston in their book Net Positive, with a few Big Buts. First, forget about Achievable. It is “not relevant whether your goals are achievable”, they write. “If a goal is not making you uncomfortable, it’s not aggressive enough. If you know it’s feasible, it can’t be big enough.” The A in SMART can be kept, but instead of Achievable, they want it to stand for Aspirational, Ambitious, or Audacious. Remember the Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs) from Jim Collins and Jerry Porras.

Second, replace the R of Realistic by Results-Oriented.

Third, go for absolute goals instead of relative goals as Unilever did by aiming for net zero carbon emissions in 2039. Absolute goals “provide better clarity to the organization about where you’re headed”. Companies are morally obliged to set aggressive climate goals, they write. They admire Microsoft which they think has the most aggressive climate goal in the world. “Not only would the company, by 2030, be carbon negative, but by 2050 it would remove from the world the carbon it had emitted since it was founded”, being the “first retroactive neutrality goal” ever. “The world needs to cut emissions in half by 2030 and eliminate them by 2050 (or earlier). Setting a carbon goal for anything less than that pace is taking part in a suicide pact.”

Fourth, Polman and Winston suggest an additional A, so SMAART instead of SMART, for Accountability. “Who owns the goal and who has a stake in it?”

What about your goals? Are they SMAART?

This is part of a series of blogs about “Net Positive”, an important book by Paul Polman and Andrew Winston. See the other blogs on this website.