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  • M J Flanagan


Updated: Apr 4

It's time to revisit SMART goals and make them fit for the 21st century



It's time to revisit delegation and bring it into the 21st century.

Delegation when used effectively can transform the leadership/employee relationship, giving leaders more time to focus on strategy and their people and employees the opportunity to learn and have a greater sense of belonging as they feel they are making a valued contribution. Despite their being over 4,000 search results of delegation on Amazon, they are still referring to the outdated use of SMART goals. It is time we updated SMART goal setting and make it more relevant to our multigenerational workforce.

Why aren’t leaders delegating effectively?

According to research from Forbes to HBR there are several reasons why leaders are not delegating effectively.

· Lack of Trust – They lack confidence in their team members ability.

· Fear – That their team member will either make a mistake and cause more work or perform the task better thus making themselves redundant.

· Poor Time management and planning - leaving delegation until the task becomes urgent and important therefore leaving little time to instruct and correct if it goes wrong.

· Choosing the Wrong person – giving the task to the wrong person, someone who is not motivated to deliver their best.

· Do not know how to delegate effectively.

· The team have not brought into the task The methodology for delegating is outdated and does not engage them.

Do you do what you can do or what you need to do?

Great leaders understand the importance of choosing between what they need to do and what they can do. However, some leaders when faced with challenges, can often revert to what they can do, as it represents a place of safety and comfort, the consequences of this can mean they get trapped dealing with specific tasks that could have been delegated or in a specific area and lose sight of the overall picture or potential challenges heading their way that could have been averted. In-fact according to Stanford University research (1) only 30% of leaders think they are effective delegators and only 33% of team members think their leaders can delegate well.

When asked why they don’t delegate leaders often say, “no one can do it as well as me so I may as well do it myself” leading them to become overworked, stressed and their teams disengaged.

A 2015 Gallup analysis of the entrepreneurial skills of 143 CEOs on the Inc. 500 index (2) revealed that companies led by leaders who effectively delegate responsibilities grow faster, yield more profit, and generate more employment. And according to HBR businesses that have leadership who effectively delegate will empower their team, and engage and inspire them whilst building their skills and self-esteem, which will motivate them to achieve more and potentially stay longer.

Delegating effectively the SMART way is outdated.

Many will have heard of SMART goal setting (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time bound) it appears to have originated in a management context by Doran 1981; (Locke and Latham 2002), having evolved from the ‘management by objectives’ movement (Drucker 1954; Raia 1965). Although successfully used for since then there has been little review of this much used methodology for goal setting, yet we know that the employee mindset has changed becoming more collaborative and egalitarian as opposed to hierarchical. “Younger teams and those entering the workplace want a flatter more consultative structure LSE business 2017 (3). We have also seen a movement towards more ethical practices, In the workplace of the future, ethics will be even more important than it is now.” In The Workplace of The Future, How Important Will Ethics Be? Bruce Weinstein – Forbes 2021 (4). If we are to engage our teams, empower them effectively and delegate in a way that gets results it is time we updated SMART goal setting and move towards from SMARTER goals.


Adapted from SMART goals we have taken the elements that have worked in the past and either added or updated the methodology to engage today’s employees.

Understanding the characteristics of SMARTER goals are key to using them effectively. Let’s break down each one:


The goal should be clear and specific, in order to focus on the result. Using the 5 W approach can help to structure the specific.

Be careful of assuming other’s knowledge or interpretation when setting SMARTER goals. Often tasks are not effectively accomplished because the delegatee interpreted the specific information differently from yourself. If goal setting for others explain the specifics from their perspective.

· What do you want to be accomplished? Be clear.

· Why is this goal important?

· Who is involved?

· Where is it located?

· Which resources or limits are involved?


It's important to have measurable goals, so that you can track progress and assess the outcome. A measurable goal should address questions such as: What does the result look like?, what does success look like? give examples.


By engaging the person, you are setting SMARTER goals for, they are more likely to achieve the required outcome, willingly and on time. An agreed goal will usually answer questions such as:

· Do they understand what is expected of them?

If you ask them, do they understand, they may well say yes as they either do not want to lose face by admitting they don’t understand or because they understand from their perspective but not necessarily yours. Ask them some specifics about the task, how long will it take you? what is the first step? or what resources do you need?

· Am I prepared to undertake the task?

There may be factors which you have not considered when delegating the task to this individual, by having the agreement discussion any factors which could inhibit their willingness to take on the task can be reviewed, discussed and either overcome or highlight the need to delegate this task to someone else.


This element covers both the is it achievable (from SMART goals) and realistic.

A realistic goal can answer "yes" to these questions:

· Is this the right time, or is the length of time allocated realistic?

· Does the individual have the skills and resources they need?


Every goal needs a target date, so that you have a deadline to focus on and something to work toward. This part of the SMARTER goal setting criteria helps to prevent everyday tasks from taking priority over longer-term goals. The time allocated should be appropriate for the complexity of the task and given their other commitments.

Ideally you should give a deadline that gives you enough time to check and correct it if needs be.


Missing from original SMART Goals, we have added Ethical which considers any social, legal, moral and company culture implications.

Asking a team member to carry out a task that is not aligned with your company culture will send the wrong message and undermine the importance of the culture.

We also need to consider any legal and moral implications ensuring we are role modelling appropriate behaviours and consider their own values and ethics. For example, it would be unethical to ask a sous chef to taste the meat jus when they are vegetarian, or a Muslim who does not drink to develop a tasting guide for the wine list which means they would have to taste the wine themselves.


Too many times I have seen leaders delegate a task and then never follow it up or review it, leaving the delegatee feeling undervalued and ignored. This can result in them losing the motivation to do the best job they can when being delegated to in the future.

In addition, delegation is a form of learning, by reviewing the task and giving them feedback on the result and understanding any challenges they faced when achieving the goal, you can then help them overcome those challenged for future tasks.

Lastly there are times when priorities change and the task/project you have delegated is no longer needed, this can have a demoralising effect on the employee if they have not been asked for the outcomes and again make them feel “why should I bother next time?”. It is even more important in this case we review the work done, explain that the goal posts have changed but to keep it on file as you feel sure at some point in the future it may be needed again and to also talk about their learning from the task, so at least they feel there was a point to it.

Next time you have to delegate why not try the SMARTER methodology and let me know how you get on.

mjinspire will be running a project management live, online skillsbootcamps, check the schedule for dates. Contact her via DM or in the comment box for more details.




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