Maybe your people should work H.A.R.D. as well as S.M.A.R.T.
  • leadership
  • Blog post

Maybe your people should work H.A.R.D. as well as S.M.A.R.T.

If you’ve been in the workforce for any length of time, you probably know — and may have used — the SMART goal-setting process for your employees and/or yourself. (The acronym, just to remind you, stands for goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timebound.)

SMART has a lot of adherents. But it’s not the only goal-setting tool available. According to the consultants at Leadership IQ, you might also want to try HARD goals, at least in certain situations.

HARD stands for:

  • Heartfelt. The goals have a strong emotional and altruistic component, that they’ll enrich the lives of someone beyond the employee – like customers, co-workers or the community.
  • Animated. The employee can vividly imagine how he or she will feel on attainment of the goal.
  • Required. The goal is absolutely necessary for the organization.
  • Difficult. The employee will have to learn new skills and stretch him- or herself to achieve the goal.


Where they differ
How do HARD goals and SMART goals differ?

For one thing, HARD goals appeal to employee emotions, an important factor in employee engagement. SMART goals may have an emotional content, but the process itself doesn’t demand it.

For another, HARD goals aim to stretch employees to achieve difficult tasks or cope with major change. Again, this isn’t an explicit element of SMART. In fact, the Achievable and Realistic elements of SMART can lead to employees setting goals that they know will be relatively easy to attain.


Does this matter? It may well. According to the ground-breaking research in workplace goal-setting done over the past few decades by professors Edwin Locke at the University of Maryland and Gary Latham at the University of Toronto, specific hard goals lead to higher productivity than easy ones, or vague ones like “do your best.”

A HARD scenario
What might a HARD goal look like in practice?

Suppose you want to promote a deserving line employee to a middle-level managerial position. This person is going to be in charge of about a dozen of his/her former peers, and will have to bring the department to a higher level of performance than has been demanded of it in the past.

Using the HARD process, you might ask this new manager to coach her new reports through a training course aimed at building employee engagement, and then motivate them to deploy their best efforts by recognizing their good work on a regular basis.

This is truly a HARD goal: It’s Heartfelt because it will enrich employees’ lives, as well as that of the manager, by bringing out their best and thanking them for giving it. It’s Animated because, ideally, employees will feel a greater sense of mission when they come to work each day. It’s Required because the organization isn’t budgeting for additional manpower or new equipment to achieve the desired productivity gains. And it’s Difficult because, among other things, most managers don’t instinctively recognize good performance on a regular basis.

Not a zero-sum game
Don’t get us wrong — we’re not saying that you should do HARD goals instead of SMART ones.

Your aim is not always to get employees to achieve momentous things. Sometimes you just need them to get stuff done. SMART goals, with their eminently practical emphasis, work just fine for certain specific job categories at specific times. But you may need something more for other situations.

So by all means, use both processes when they’re most appropriate.

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