How To Develop Better Goals: Introducing the Five I’s

Want to get the benefits of goals, but the S.M.A.R.T. framework just doesn’t work for you? Me neither. Try the Five I’s to write better goals.

February is the month many people finalize their goals for the year. In a business, targets have been set, translated, and shared as the basis for performance goals. Organizations with a learning orientation also encourage employees to set developmental, or learning, goals, for the year. Regardless of the type, all are encouraged to use the same S.M.A.R.T. framework: Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Relevant and Time bound.

If your eyes rolled and your stomach tightened when you got to the description of S.M.A.R.T., you are not alone. For many years, it was my responsibility to lead discussions on the framework, and I wrote dozens of communications imploring people to write goals in this formula. Yet, very few S.M.A.R.T. goals came back. Upon reflection, I think I understand the problem. S.M.A.R.T. speaks to the head; but goal motivation comes from the heart.

I believe in goals. They provide a true north to navigate the daily wild frontier of distractions.  I believe in writing goals down. It is an act of commitment to get ideas out of my head and make my intent public. I believe, like Daniel Pink  in DRIVE: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, that the real motivation to achieve goals is neither the carrot nor the stick, but that voice deep inside that says I really want to do this. That voice doesn’t get out of bed for the analytics of S.M.A.R.T.

The Five I’s Alternative

So, I humbly suggest the alternative I will use to evaluate my 2012 goals: The Five I’s.

1. Does it inspire?
This is the price of admission to my list. Does this goal make me excited? Do I get energy just thinking about it? Does it prime my imagination? If it doesn’t, I’ll find reasons not to stick to it when inevitable obstacles arise.

2. Is it important?
There is a difference between can do and should do. Will the outcome make a difference to me, to my clients, to others in my network? Will I care if I reach it? Does it represent the best way I can use my time and talent?

3. Does it improve my capabilities?
Good goals build a capability platform for new goals, whether I reach them or not. What will I personally develop by pursuit of this goal? Does it allow me to leverage strength? Try out a new skill? Regardless of the outcome, will I learn things I can build upon?

4. Is it inclusive?  
With apologies to Secretary Clinton, it takes a village to reach a goal. If the goal is important and developmental, I’ll need the help and support of others. Do I know who they are? Do I have access to them? What’s in it for them? Is the goal big enough to accommodate things they want to learn, try and do?

5. Can I identify progress?
Identifying the signs of progress will keep me both accountable and motivated. What will I see, hear or feel to know that I am on the right path? How will I know when I achieve my goal? What will be different?  One of the problems with S.M.A.R.T. is that it can’t accommodate the evolving nature of learning or just getting better; it only marks arrivals.

What Do You Think?

If S.M.A.R.T. works for your goals, share how you make it work. If it doesn’t, how do you write good goals?  Can you improve upon the Five I’s?

Regardless of your preference, I hope your 2012 goals set the stage for meaningful accomplishments in the year ahead.


Pink, D.H. (2010) Drive: the Surprising truth About What Motivates Us. New York: Penguin Group

6 thoughts on “How To Develop Better Goals: Introducing the Five I’s

  1. I really like your Five I’s as a framework for developing objectives. I do think that there is a difference between developing meaningful goals and measuring whether those goals were achieved.

    If your boss isn’t aligned with the 5 “I”s, it could become an issue at evaluation time. So, I would use the 5 “I”s to identify my goals, but for evaluation purposes, I think that SMART is still a useful tool to demonstrate accomplishment of those same goals.

    How’s that for fence sitting?

    • Thanks for the comment, Colleen. You raise two valid points. More specific measurement would be necessary in a performance management context.

      The idea came up in a conversation with group of really talented and experienced executive coaches last week. The general topic was that SMART really didn’t get underneath the cognitive layers for necessary for good development goals. As a result, some clients worked so hard on the tactics of the SMART criteria that really didn’t result in development goals that were most relevant or motivational. There was also some discussion that more complex competencies, such as Dealing With Ambiguity, were difficult to categorize into SMART goals. However, people need some direction to set goals, so a few of us left to think about a different framework.

      Perhaps the difference is performance goals are easier to measure, so could be more appropriate for the SMART framework.

      Thanks for your ideas; a stronger measurement component will make it better.

      I enjoy your blog, by the way. Will stop by later.

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