F.A.S.T. beats S.M.A.R.T. goals...

Goals have been a well-documented subject over many years. And I agree, they are important. Whether we call them goals, objectives or targets, giving ourselves something to aim for in the future can have many benefits. It can encourage us to grow and give us a sense of purpose.

Also many of us will be familiar with the S.M.A.R.T. acronym for setting goals. Goals, we have learned, benefit from being:

  • Specific

  • Measurable

  • Achievable

  • Realistic

  • Time-bound

We may have set goals this way for ourselves and for our staff. However, and this is a big however...does it work?

Do team members actually achieve their goals - which are often set at the beginning of a year and re-visited at appraisal time!

Also, if we unpack the above framework a little, are specific and measurable really very similar? If something is specific it implies it's measurable. Also isn't achievable the same as realistic?


Here's another acronym that might help more - especially in today's fast moving environment.

F - Frequently Discussed

If you wish to achieve a goal - especially something really meaningful it pays to re-visit - and remind people of it - frequently. I'm a big advocate of meeting daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annually. Setting a goal and then not looking at it for several weeks, will allow other "thing's" into our space and gradually the goal will slip from our focus. Then - if you're like me in the past - we come up with seemingly firm justifications as to what got in the way of us achieving what was set. Then we set new goals and continue...

A - Ambitious

One of my favourite quotes is from Michelangelo the famous artist and sculptor. He said:

"The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low and achieving our mark."

Especially when achieving goals is tied to bonuses, we may tend to set goals that are too conservative in the hope that we achieve them and demonstrate our capacity as an achiever. But what have we really achieved? We may have met our individual goal but allowed a big part of our market to slip into the hands of competitors, or lose an innovation advantage or lose a key member of staff.

Ambition is hard to measure as we can only see what was achieved not what may have been possible. To be of real use though, goals should be almost impossible to achieve...but possible to achieve!

Ambitious goals encourage us to innovate, to collaborate, to challenge ourselves and each other, and to grow our skills.

S - Specific

Yes this is retained from S.M.A.R.T. For good reason: we can't hit a goal we can't define clearly. If it's vague, we don't know when we've achieved it and we can't measure our progress towards it. Specific implies that it's measurable. During meetings it should be possible for us to give a clear statement of progress towards our goal(s). This is only possible if they're defined clearly.

T - Transparent

Transparency in this context means that everyone can see what other teams - and individuals - are working on and how they are progressing.

Particularly in larger companies, we run the risk of teams working hard to achieve their goals, but because those goals may not be aligned with what the company needs to achieve, the company may fail to reach its goal overall. By making goals transparent across the company we can make sure that we align what teams are working on with the goals of the company. This also encourages peer accountability. Research reveals that when goals are made public (within the company) in this way, team members check on how other teams are doing even more frequently than on their own progress!


In my view - and I've covered this with many of the companies I've worked with - if our team players regard their time at work as "just a job" we're in trouble! One of the most important features of work these days is being able to directly link what we do at our own desks to exactly where the company wants to go. We feel connected to our tribe and our job has worth, purpose and meaning.

Using F.A.S.T. as an alternative way to establish and run projects helps to bridge the gap between a person's task and the overall mission. Frequency gives people a voice, ambition fosters growth, specificity allows a sense of achievement (and success breeds success), transparency helps keep them on track and aligns their efforts with others.

Try F.A.S.T. with your next project to help you scale effectively and enjoy the ride :)

Keep scaling.


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