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SMART and Stretch Goal Setting for #careerlions

SMART and Stretch Goal Setting for #careerlions

I am currently reading “Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business” by Charles Duhigg, the bestselling author who has also written the power of habit. One of the book’s chapters describes what SMART goal setting in combination with stretch goals can mean for the productiveness of employees. In the book, Duhigg describes the use of SMART and stretch goal setting based on examples at General Electric and the Japanese bullet train. Reading this, I was interested in what it could mean for us #careerlions today. What are the tips and tricks of using SMART in your goal setting? Read this article to learn more.


Setting SMART goals means that your goals have to be:

  • S = Specific
  • M = Measurable
  • A = Achievable
  • R = Realistic
  • T = Time-based

SMART goals proved to be successful by itself for a long time at General Electric, as they made goal setting measurable and manageable. However, with SMART goals you are mostly facilitating incremental improvements. In the end these would only yield incremental economic growth.

In order to really achieve big things, the focus should probably be less on the “achievable”. Another downside of SMART goals is that is can cause people to focus on the easiest tasks available, where crossing of your to-do’s of the list is more important than doing the right things. That doesn’t sound familiar at all, hihi.


At the Japanese bullet train project, they set major stretch goals that in the end they even achieved. Their way of goal setting inspired General Electric, who then implemented it too. In addition to their SMART goal setting, an additional stretch goal would be set. For these, managers would initially not be able to describe the way to achieve it yet. This was a real turn, as it essentially meant using dreams to set business targets. Where they said, “If you do know how to get there—it’s not a stretch target.” What implementing stretch-goals showed General Electric, was that in practice they had to change everything about the way they were running their business. Training their personnel wasn’t going to cut it, they would have to hire different kinds of employees, train them differently, and chance the way the factory ran. Duhigg writes that stretch-goals can shift attention to possible new futures. They can possibly re-energize organizations too. Stretch-goals allow for exploratory learning by means of experimentation, innovation, broad search, or playfulness. They require the adaption of new ways of thinking.

Why you need both

Stretch-goals are thus a great way to spark innovation. But like SMART goals, there is also a possible flaw. When goals become too big, they may create panic and convince people that success is unreachable. The goals can actually become terrifying. People need to believe something is possible, rather than having their morale crushed. That is why pairing SMART with stretch goals could be a winning team. The SMART method can help you clarify where to start achieving your goal by creating short-term realistic aims contributing towards the stretch goal in mind.

How to apply this?

In order to get started, you will have to get your stretch goals on paper. Don’t be limited by the achievability yet, again: if you know how to get there, it’s not a stretch goal. The idea here is to re-examine the list later and work on the SMART part. When you have the stretch goals, take your time to formulate smaller SMART goals. These will help you stay motivated and make your dreams come true.

So just as an example of some crazy stretch goals and stimulate you to work on yours, I will set mine here for all of you to read. Stretch goal number one is going to be, manage to get to the world championships of Irish dancing one more time (you might have read that somewhere before, still going strong on that dream).

  • Part I is going to be, get the surgery on my lower leg well before the heavy training season. Surely, I will know when I have the procedure done whether it is achievable. I will have to make a plan with work and other obligations, in order to arrange this. Realistic? Already scheduled a doctor’s appointment to talk through the operation, so I would say yes. Time-based? Have to see whether there is an opening in the beginning of the summer period to make sure my timing is on point.
  • Part II is going to be train three to four times a week and add even more regular 15-minute abdominal workouts through the week. Achievable? Well, not when I end up getting the operation. Also, not necessarily with the pain. However, I have found some ways to exercise while limiting the impact on my leg. So, I am going with yes. Realistic? Well, if I watch less Netflix probably XD. Priorities Ashley! Time-based? Should have started yesterday basically. Time frame is to continue this until November 2018, training at least 4 times a week or more.

How do you feel about these types of (combined) goal setting? Will you start with both Stretch and SMART goal setting? If you are, consider using for instance the Passion Planner. I recommended it in a prior article on planning tools and it is especially relevant for this. The planner allows for setting your life goals on i.e. a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, 5-year, and 10-year basis on both professional and personal level. Don’t hesitate to share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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