Succeed at Goal-Setting: How you can be smarter than SMART

Succeed at Goal-Setting: How you can be smarter than SMART

It’s that time of year when Goal-Setting seems to be on everyone’s lips, and like optimistic children caught in the Pied Piper’s tune, we routinely sit down again to plan the year ahead.

In the back of our minds we will hear the echo of some previous lecture on creating goals and the principles of SMART goal setting. And if we are a little more new-age, we may even be reminded of the SMARTER extension and pointed towards either of its two family members, the slightly more emotive touchy-feely cousin, or the anally-retentive ‘check it twice, check it again’ cousin.

I am of course being slightly facetious around these well-practised and highly useful frameworks. But what if we could be smarter than SMART(ER)? What if we had a framework that took us out of our comfort zone, and forced us to consider all the elements necessary in visualising our future, therefore reducing the chance that we would set goals based on our own predictable strengths and weaknesses?

What if we could step outside the comfortable patterns that we have developed throughout life and be made aware of our blind spots, so as to conduct a critical review of our vision? And by doing so, we ensure that we’ve done the full due diligence that ultimately ensures our SMART or SMARTER goal-setting actually worked?

The good news is we can, using ESIP, which is a critical alignment model or design thinking approach to considering all elements of your goal-setting process.

Before we get into ESIP, let’s quickly review SMART and SMARTER to clarify the differences.

SMART Goal-Setting

The SMART acronym was first written down in November 1981 by a corporate consultant named George T. Doran, in a paper titled, “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. Way to Write Management’s Goals and Objectives“.

Developed for individual use, it is generally described as:

   Specific: target a specific area for improvement.

   Measurable: quantify, or at least suggest, an indicator of progress.

   Achievable: can it realistically be achieved in the time-frame.

   Realistic: state what results can realistically be achieved.

   Time-related: when will the result can be achieved?

As a way of breaking down a specific goal and testing it against a framework, SMART works. It is a very rational and logical way of setting goals, however, it does assume that the goal that is being dissected is the right goal, for the right vision, that will automatically fit in with other goals and naturally achieve itself without a stated ‘how’.

Which leads us to SMARTER Goals…


As mentioned above, there are two versions of this extension, both specific to the added ‘E’ and ‘R” of the acronym.

The cautious and rationale version:

   Evaluate: check your goals on a regular basis to ensure they are on track.

   Re-adjust: make necessary changes if you can improve or require a different strategy.

And the more emotive:

   Emotion: what emotion will you feel when you have achieved this goal?

   Reward: how will you reward yourself upon completion of this goal?

Both versions of SMARTER provide enhancements in my opinion as they increase both the frequency and power of connection to goals, strengthening neural pathways, and allowing for greater internalisation and engagement with the process, making goal-setting more personal and dynamic.

For the Simon Sinek fans, the emotional connection now provides some sense of WHY this goal is important, but we still lack an understanding of how this goal fits in with our overall vision. It doesn’t address how we are going to achieve it, or who we may need to help us on our way.

ESIP Critical Alignment Model

The ESIP model works on the premise that without deliberately considering all elements of our decision-making, our pre-determined beliefs and behavioural patterns can bias our decisions and therefore our goal-setting, affecting our ability to create change and success in our lives.

ESIP can help to ensure that we consciously consider the big picture aspects of our decisions and what we want the outcomes to look like, the structures we need in place, the day-to-day tasks that will be required to achieve the result, and the people who will be important in making it possible. In this way, it helps us identify gaps in our Thinking, Communication & Actions.

Environment: this is our vision for how we’d like this part of our life to be, why it is important to us and what outcomes we’d like to create.


– I want to be fitter than I have ever been in my life by next Christmas.

– Because I want to feel confident and strong in every aspect of life.

– I want to be able to play, run and ride with my children.

– To do this I would love to be 10kg lighter.

Structures: what systems or tools do we need to create or draw upon to ensure we have the best chance of achieving our desired outcomes?


– I need to create a diet/meal plan to achieve my goals.

– I require a training plan to create daily exercise habits.

– I need to set benchmarks and KPIs that I aim for each week/month.

Implementation: the day-to-day action steps we need to take to reach our goals.


– I need to wake up 1 hour earlier each day to allow time for exercise.

– I need to do my own grocery shopping each week.

– I will weigh myself each Monday morning and record my weight and progress.

People: who do I need involved to ensure success?


– I need to speak to a dietician.

– I need to speak to a personal trainer.

– I need to share my goals with my partner to support my diet and training schedule.

Naturally, we will be stronger in 2 to 3 of these areas. Some of us are people-oriented and this will come naturally to us, but we might find it difficult to create the daily implementation steps. Others will be detail-oriented but may struggle to link the specific steps to the big picture, risking losing sight of the overall vision.

This process aims at ensuring we have considered all aspects of our thinking in order to enable SMART and SMARTER to come into action.

Goal-setting is not an exercise to be done in isolation; it should be an extension of our broader vision for our future. Applying this critical thinking model not only gives us a chance to create a vivid picture of our thinking and what we require to succeed, it lets us be just that bit smarter than SMART, which can make all the difference in achieving our dreams.

Greg Mumm

Greg is the Managing Director of The Final Whistle. He spent 10 years as a professional rugby coach working at all levels from school to international level, including assisting Fiji at both the 2007 and 2011 Rugby World Cups. He co-founded CareerHQ with his father John, a career guidance platform which helps young men and women create their own unique and fulfilling career paths.

Interests: education, leadership, family, business, coaching, values facilitation, human behaviour, rugby.

First Article: February 2016


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