When It Comes to New Year’s Resolutions, Think FAST, Not SMART

Last verified Apr 26, 2021

It’s officially a new year, which means that it’s time to set goals and tackle all the things you’ve been meaning to do since 2018. New year, new you, right? Whether your goals are personal or work-related, the first of the year feels like a good time to hit the reset button and double down on the things you’ve been wanting to accomplish.

Open Graph Image

However, sometimes goals set with even the best of intentions don’t end up panning out. To make goals in the workplace stick, a common methodology suggests setting goals that are SMART. SMART goals are specificmeasurableachievablerealistic, and time-bound.

That sounds like a great strategy, but research from MIT suggests that SMART goals can actually “undermine the alignment, coordination, and agility that’s needed for a company to execute its strategy.” Rather than pursuing SMART goals, they propose opting for goals that are FAST instead. FAST goals are embedded in frequent discussions, ambitious in scope, measured by specific metrics, and transparent for everyone in the organization. (Yes, SMART is a more efficient acronym but we’ll forgive FAST for the wordiness.) Let’s take a look at why FAST is preferable to SMART and how you can set better goals in 2019.

FAST goals > SMART goals

So what are the objections to SMART goals? SMART goals are often privately set, safe bets, and linked directly to incentives. When goals are framed as “achievable” and tied too closely to incentives like bonuses or promotions, it can sometimes lead to employees “sandbagging,” or setting conservative goals to make sure they exceed them. Additionally, when goals are set privately, there’s a lack of transparency among teams in terms of objectives and priorities. SMART goals tend to undervalue ambition, focus too closely on individual performance, undersell the importance of discussing goals frequently throughout the year. That’s where FAST comes in.

Frequently discussed goals

When goals are frequently discussed, they can better inform decision-making and keep employees focused on key priorities. We always start our bi-weekly marketing meetings at Guru by revisiting our team goals and then digging into how we’re working together to achieve them. By keeping goals top of mind and part of ongoing conversations, we position ourselves to achieve them.

Talking about goals openly and often helps keep us from falling behind on them, too. When a goal is set in January and then is mostly out of sight, out of mind for the rest of the year, the deadline can sneak up on you. By checking in on and discussing our goals regularly, we make a conscious effort to keep ourselves from slipping on them.

To incorporate FAST goals into your 2019 strategy, start by talking openly about your intentions on a regular basis. The more top of mind your goals are, the easier for you to optimize your behavior around achieving them. Try opening your meetings by revisiting your goals, like we do at Guru, and make people outside of your team part of the conversation as well.

Ambitious goals

Goals are supposed to be stretches, not slam dunks. What’s the point of setting a goal if it won’t push you to be better? If you stick with goals that are “attainable” rather than “ambitious,” you limit your growth potential by playing it safe. Aiming to achieve the status quo isn’t pursuing a goal, it’s simply doing your job. Push yourself to go above and beyond the scope of your role by setting goals that are ambitious and will require serious effort to attain. Think about numbers you’re comfortable hitting, and then increase those numbers to turn them into goals.

Specific goals

Both the FAST and SMART schools of thought emphasize the importance of setting goals that are specific. A goal that is too broad gives you just enough wiggle room to not live up to your full potential. If you go with a vague goal like “Exercise more,” more can mean anything. Instead, you should give yourself a tangible, specific goal, like “Spend an hour on the treadmill five times a week.”

Setting specific goals makes them easier to measure and pushes you to stick with them. It’s hard to quantify and deliver on words like “more” and “better,” but you can certainly measure specific numbers. The thought of “exercising more” sounds daunting, but the specificity of running on the treadmill for a set amount of time feels easier to tackle. It’s helpful to have a starting point, and specific goals make that clearer.

Transparent goals

Transparency may not be the first thing that comes to mind when setting goals, but it makes a lot of sense for a number of reasons. So much of what we do at work depends on other teams and other people, and without transparency around what your individual goals are, it can be hard to work together. At Guru, our content team works really closely with our brand team and we rely on their creative abilities to bring our projects to life (Thank you for the awesome graphic in this post, Becca!). Without clear communication and transparency around our individual goals, it’s hard to line up projects and resources in a way that fits into both of our objectives.

If I set a goal for myself of creating one infographic every month but don’t check in with Becca on her design bandwidth every month, that goal is going to be impossible to meet. It’s important to know the priorities of the people you’re dependent on so that you set goals that are reasonable for all parties. That way, you can work more closely together to achieve them.

Setting better goals in 2019

Before you commit to a new set of goals for this year, ask yourself if they are FAST. Are you prepared to discuss them frequently? Are they ambitious rather than just achievable? Are they specific enough? And finally, were they set transparently? If you’re not sure, the MIT study has a quiz you can take to check just how FAST your goals are.

Happy New Year from your friends at Guru! We wish you a happy, healthy, and FAST 2019.