For years, management experts have suggested setting goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timebound, or SMART. There’s a new goal-setting technique getting attention—one that the MIT Sloan Management Review says “beats SMART.”
This new technique is called FAST, which stands for frequently discussed, ambitious, specific, and transparent.
What’s Better About FAST
While SMART is good, FAST may be better. According to MIT, setting SMART goals can undermine the “alignment, coordination and agility that’s needed for a company to execute its strategy.” This is especially problematic when SMART goals are linked to earned incentives because it motivates employees to set relatively low goals so they can be more easily met.
Using FAST goal-setting techniques corrects some of these disadvantages and can help companies improve—and correct course—more quickly.
Here’s a look at the FAST way to set goals:
Frequent discussion: Many companies tie achieving goals to annual reviews, bonuses, and raises. Goals and progress toward them are examined maybe once or twice a year and are most often discussed only in the context of a performance review.
The FAST technique suggests frequent discussion to review progress, allocate resources, prioritize initiatives, and provide feedback.
Keeping goals top of mind accomplishes several desirable outcomes. For example, talking about goals frequently—once a quarter, say—keeps employees focused on priorities and provides guidance for key decisions. It also allows for timely changes if things aren’t going in the right direction.
Ambitious: In goal setting, the expression “you get what you pay for” is true. If you tie employees’ financial incentives to goal attainment, it’s likely that employees will meet those goals. Of course, it’s also likely that those goals weren’t very ambitious to start.
It’s human nature to “sandbag” by setting easily attainable goals, especially when they are tied to rewards. By setting goals that are ambitious—challenging but achievable and realistic—you are more likely to seek creative, innovative solutions instead of using tried-and-true ways to get results.
Ambition and achievability must be balanced. At Google, which uses the FAST technique, employees are expected to achieve 60 to 70 percent of their goals, but not all of them. Google also separates goal attainment from compensation decisions, believing that intrinsic motivation is the key to achievement.
Specific: Studies in organizational psychology have shown that concrete metrics and milestones lead to success. Clear expectations, managed with frequent feedback, are also important.
Breaking goals into specific tasks and milestones helps as well, forcing strategic players on the team to think critically and encouraging the more tactically minded employees to align interim steps with greater goals.
Specificity also makes it easier to adjust as you go. You can quickly determine what’s working and what’s not while keeping the big picture in mind.
Transparent: Perhaps the most interesting of the FAST elements, transparency means that all employees can see how others are performing relative to their goals. The idea is that peer pressure will motivate performance and underscore how individual performance supports company-wide goals.
While some assume that employees would not want to make their goals public, employees using FAST generally report that the upside of transparency—boosted performance, shared aims, and advice from others in similar circumstances—outweigh the downside.
Give FAST a Try
Companies such as Google, Intel, and Anheuser-Busch InBev are using FAST. Many smaller companies have adopted the technique as well. Give FAST a try to see how it works in your company.