FAST beats SMART in startups

07 September 2021

A SMART goal if you are not familiar is an acronym that stands for: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. The purpose is to provide criteria for creating objectives, and a mnemonic I have been for over a decade. Working in a startup environment means things change fast, new information comes up and success means people can respond quickly. SMART goals are not able to keep up with the quick change.

If you do quarterly planning, your goals or OKRs probably come up twice. The first time is when you create well-crafted SMART goals that fit in with the organization, and the second time is the end of the quarter when you see how you did. New information will be discovered in between those two points that pivots you to work on something more important than your goals but not contributing to them. Adjusting your work is a good thing but if all the goal-creating exercises are frontloaded, your work will drift from your SMART goals and there is no feedback cycle to catch it.

FAST goals from MIT Sloan Management Review (With Goals, FAST beats SMART), fixes the feedback cycle and makes goal setting easier. FAST stands for:

  • Frequently discussed
  • Ambitious
  • Specific
  • Transparent

Ambitious and specific echo back to the SMART criteria, but Frequently discussed and Transparent are the two big differentiators. Frequently discussed and Transparent address the missing feedback loop. The thing you talk about frequently is the most important thing. In the “set and forget” mode of goal setting, your efforts are still working towards a goal, it might just not be a goal that had rigor in being created. Transparent enables peers to see how each other are doing towards their goals and provide feedback. SMART goals alone provide no guarantee that people even know where to look for the goals, or find the latest version of them.