SMART or FAST: Which Wins the Goal-Setting Race? – Tip #198

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We’ve all heard the tale of the turtle and the hare. In the story, the speedy hare loses to the slow turtle.  

I want you to imagine this as the traditional way of setting goals. SMART, which stands for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound, is perhaps the most popular way that most people have been taught to develop their goals, especially in the business or organizational setting.  

If you’re using this method, how has that worked so far? Is it working at all?


Although SMART is popular, it has a major flaw. “SMART goals undervalue ambition, focus narrowly on individual performance, and ignore the importance of discussing goals throughout the year,” says Donald Sull of the MIT Sloan School of Management and Charles Sull of Charles Thames Strategy Partners LLC.

If not SMART goals, then what’s the alternative?

Donald and Charles suggests turning SMART goals on its head and you have FAST goals:

F frequently discussed
Goals are constantly being reviewed and evaluated.
A ambitious
Goals are difficult but not impossible to achieve.
S scientific
Goals are translated into metrics and milestones, which helps provide clarity on the next steps necessary to achieve objectives and measure progress.
T transparent
Everyone can see what your goals are, and you can see what your colleagues’ goals are.

Unlike SMART goals, the FAST method emphasizes on setting goals that are difficult but not impossible to achieve, embeds these goals into ongoing discussions for constant evaluation and feedback, and publicizes goals for transparency.

Feedback is Key

Waiting for a year to receive feedback on goals isn’t very smart for organizations operating in dynamic settings. Constantly evaluating and providing feedback on goals (as in path2x) help people correct (as necessary) and achieve their goals.

“SMART goals, therefore, are sometimes smart and sometimes not,” Martin Reeves, senior partner of The Boston Consulting Group (NY) and director of BGC Henderson Institute, and Jack Fuller, BGC consultant and BGC Henderson Institute ambassador, said in this MIT Sloan Management Review Research Highlight. “We should think about goals in a more contingent manner, adjusting the fuzziness and the ambition of goals depending on the kinds of environment our companies are operating within.”

Aside from shifting business environment, the MIT Sloan article also identifies 2 other triggers why people and organizations might need to revise their goals over time:

The company changes through capability development or acquisitions
The company learns more about its goals.

Sometimes the Hare Wins

SMART goals are valuable in stable and predictable settings, but in a VUCA environment, where context is always changing, FAST goals are the better option.

So, in the real-world race to the finish, the turtle doesn’t always cross the finish line first. Sometimes, the hare wins.


Wayne University/Wayne LEADS. S.M.A.R.T. Objectives
Donald Sull and Charles Sull. With Goals, FAST Beats SMART. MIT Sloan Management Review, June 5, 2018
Martin Reeves and Jack Fuller. When SMART Goals Are Not So Smart. MIT Sloan Management Review, March 21, 2018
Tip #76 – Celebrate Your Expertise – Share and Standout
Tip #187 – How VUCA Expands Learning Horizons

Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
“Helping Learners Learn Their Way”