New Leadership IQ Research Paper Asks, Are SMART Goals Dumb?

Study shows no correlation between SMART goals and employee achievement, engagement

Washington, D.C.—April 1, 2010—A new study just released by Leadership IQ, a leadership development and research company, reveals startling contradictions to the goal-setting status quo.

The company studied 4,182 workers from 397 organizations to see what kind of goal-setting processes actually help employees achieve great things. Study participants completed a 35-question assessment about many aspects of their organization’s goal-setting processes.

Leadership IQ researchers then used a statistical technique called stepwise multiple regression analysis to discover what kinds of goals were most likely to drive people to high achievement. They discovered the top eight predictors of whether a person’s goals were going to help them maximize their potential. Predictors include:

-I can vividly picture how great it will feel when I achieve my goals.
-I will have to learn new skills to achieve my assigned goals for this year.
-My goals are absolutely necessary to help this company.
-I actively participated in creating my goals for this year.

However, a separate correlation analysis of the data found that survey questions about SMART Goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound), so pervasive in corporate culture, had no meaningful correlation with maximum employee performance. Instead, people who knew they were going to be stretched in the coming year felt better about their work. Those who answered Strongly Agree to the question “My goals for this year will push me out of my comfort zone” had 29% higher employee engagement than people who answered Strongly Disagree.

“The goal-setting methodologies that we’ve used for decades apparently aren’t what really push people to excel,” said Mark Murphy, chief executive officer of Leadership IQ, “and this study shows that the drive toward excellence is what really engages employees. For leaders who want employees who’ll give 100% performance, it’s time to rethink how yearly goals are set.”

The study provides in-depth findings and analysis and is available at

About Leadership IQ
Leadership IQ provides leadership training, best-practices research and employee surveys, primarily serving Fortune 500 companies. The organization focuses training and research on management and executive performance, workforce issues, negotiations, strategic planning and customer service. Leadership IQ is headquartered in Washington, D.C., with regional offices in Atlanta, Ga., and Westport, Conn. For more information, visit

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Heath Davis Havlick
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