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HARD Goals vs. SMART Goals

Have you ever had the feeling you have heard about a concept which has been around for years, but you have never actually heard about it? Well, I had this experience recently in a conversation with a coach friend from the US about the goals for my business for 2022. She mentioned the concept of HARD goals. Makes sense, sounds good but how is it possible that this is completely new to me?

Goal setting is always a topic in management trainings, and the best known and omnipresent concept is SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timebound). The main question to ask when setting goals is “Do we have the same understanding of what success looks like?” This avoids discussions over whether a goal has or has not been achieved. To answer this question, it is in my view essential to address the S, M and T of SMART, i.e. A specific description of the intended outcome (S), a measure agreed by both parties (M) and the deadline by when the goal needs to be achieved (T).

A study conducted online in 2020 by LeadershipIQ with 12,801 participants across companies of different sizes in various industries found that only 43% of people set difficult goals. Asked if their goals are Achievable (A) or difficult, 57% responded that they pursue goals that are achievable and realistic. Why should this be a problem you may ask. I believe that you grow as a person when you are required to step outside your comfort zone. Goals that are difficult to attain will push you.

This is where the concept of HARD goals comes in. HARD goals are Heartfelt, Animated, Required and Difficult. Mark Murphy, the founder and CEO of LeadershipIQ, explains it in his book “The Secret of getting from where you are to where you want to be” as follows.

  • Heartfelt

You need to really care about your goals for there to be motivation for you to achieve them. A HARD goal must be something which promises you more value than any other goal imaginable and therefore you’re not going to let anything get in the way of making it happen. Ask yourself if the goal is something you want to do rather than something you feel you need to do.

  • Animated

HARD goals are vivid and alive in your mind. Some of the greatest minds in history have used visualization and imagination techniques to make goals come to life. Can you describe how it would feel once you achieve your goal? What would others notice about you?

  • Required

HARD goals overcome procrastination by using scientific cutting-edge techniques such as behavioral economics. Convince yourself achieving your goals is a necessity, not an option. As an example, try to make future benefits of goal attainment sound even better – often people have a clearer view of the current effort involved than of future rewards. To make the effort you put in to achieving your goal less painful you can ask yourself “What will I learn from doing this?”.

  • Difficult

When it comes to difficulty, try to balance the following: You want to set goals which are so hard they will force you to tap into all the talents you possess so you’ll feel a sense of achievement. On the other hand, you don’t want your goals to be so difficult you give up without really trying. If you are like most people, the things you are most proud of achieving in your personal life or career were difficult, demanded a lot of effort and forced you to learn new stuff. Difficult goals force you to pay attention, to learn and always be at your best.

Try to use the concept of HARD goals when you think about your own career development or use it in conversations with your team members.

Heartfelt – Describe at least three reasons why you want this goal.

Animated – Describe exactly what you will be doing one year from now.

Required – What do you need to have accomplished in six months to keep on track toward achieving this goal? What about the next 30 days?

Difficult – What are the most important skills you will need to develop to achieve this goal? How will you develop them?

Find my “Management Gold – Nuggets” useful? Then let me know and share with others.

If you find this inspiring and you would like to explore further, I am delighted to meet with you for a 30-minute-free-of-charge-info-session.


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