Want More of Your Employees to Achieve Their Goals? Start Thinking FAST, not SMART.

by | Jul 19, 2018

} 3 min read
FAST Goals

We all know that goals are a key component of the success of your employees and organization. They provide a target to shoot for, give individuals and teams direction and prioritization, and provide employees and managers a measurable way they can demonstrate that they’ve advanced the business’ strategic objectives. Goals have become nearly a universal for modern businesses, but too often managers don’t give it enough thought to the process of setting and managing goals. They simply repeat the same goals process that has been in place for decades on autopilot, without stopping and asked themselves the fundamental question: “is how you’re setting your goals actually delivering the results you want?”

When setting these goals, managers will usually try and make them Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-Bound (SMART.) But the latest research from MIT has shown there are several issues with this methodology. For one, it can inadvertently incentivize employees setting conservative performance goals. If, as is common, an employee’s bonus is tied to them hitting 100% of their performance targets, they have a strong reason to sandbag their goals rather than extending themselves. Another issue is that SMART goals over-value individual performance, ignoring that most work is now completed within cross-functional teams.

And just as problematic is the tendency for both employees and managers to view SMART goals as a “set and forget” exercise. For something that has such a critical impact on the overall success of the employee and organization, and the speed of change within your business, you can’t have such infrequent engagement. If you do, it shouldn’t surprise anyone when they fail to see the benefits they hoped for; just imagine how ineffective your FitBit would be if it only allowed you to check in on your fitness goals every six months.

Moving from SMART to FAST

In an era where communication around feedback and performance is changing rapidly, it’s high time we updated our goal setting process. MIT recommends goals be FAST instead of SMART, meaning they are embedded in Frequent discussions, Ambitious in scope, measured by Specific metrics and Transparent for everyone to see.

The FAST methodology is rooted in collaboration and transparency, with the objective of aligning employee goals more effectively to those of the business and increasing cross-functional coordination. Betterworks worked with MIT as they developed their research around the FAST methodology, sharing with them metadata from more than 600,000 goals set by our customers. Our platform enables users to set and manage their own goals as well as view and comment on colleagues’ objectives. Employees have the option of making their goals visible to all users on the system or keeping them private, but overwhelmingly across multiple types of organizations, MIT’s research found that users made their goals public, with the vast majority of users believing the benefits of transparency outweigh the costs.

Goal transparency is a key pillar of the FAST methodology, and frequency of communication is the another. To increase the impact and efficacy of goals, every manager should collaboratively set each employee’s goals the top of each goal-setting period (3 to 5) and ensure they align with the organization’s top priorities as well as (1-2) personal goals. However, with FAST, the goal setting conversation is just one of the crucial conversations necessary for motivation and higher performance. Managers also need to remain actively engaged with each team member on goal progress through regular check-in conversations that cover recognition, challenges and re-prioritization.

Goals remain a critically powerful tool for driving employee development and ensuring organizational alignment around achieving the goals of your business. But as more and more leaders are recognizing, engagement and motivation around performance and achieving goals are not one-time events for an employee; they need to be continuously stoked through regular, open, and ongoing conversations between employees and their leaders. Leaders must evolve their practices to reflect these shifts and start thinking in terms of being FAST, by holding frequent discussions about goals, making sure they’re setting ambitious targets, translating these into specific metrics and making them public for everyone to see.

Get exclusive, limited-time access MIT Sloan’s research report, With Goals, FAST Beats SMART on

Want to see how betterworks can help your organizations move to FAST goals within continuous performance management? We’re here to help.

Betterworks® aligns, develops and activates your workforce for business growth. Our easy-to-use, integrated software solution replaces outdated annual review processes with powerful Continuous Performance Management® programs to help organizations ensure everyone is working on what matters most and are having the crucial conversations necessary to inspire and motivate their entire workforce to meet today’s goals and tomorrow’s challenges.