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A couple months ago while on a coaching call with a nonprofit exec, I suggested ditching the usual SMART goals for her coaching goals.   She was in favor of a different goal setting paradigm saying she found SMART goals to be too individualistic, rigid, and detached. I agree – how many times have you looked at your annual goals and just felt stress or dread because they were suddenly irrelevant or never even connected to what you really love doing? 

SMART goals, an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound, have long been the bedrock of goal setting in organizations. They offer a clear, structured approach to setting objectives, ensuring that goals are clearly defined and assessable. However, as effective as they are in certain contexts, SMART goals can sometimes be too rigid and individual-focused, not adequately catering to the collaborative nature of our work. 

Time to Ditch SMART Goals?

Time to Ditch SMART Goals?

I discovered CLEAR goals, which stand for Collaborative, Limited, Emotional, Appreciable, and Refinable, a few years ago when searching for a more meaningful way to design annual employee goals. Using CLEAR goals has become my preference for goal setting for individuals and when implementing strategic plans with organizations. They provide a more holistic and flexible approach. This framework is particularly relevant in organizations where collaboration, independence, and flow are valued.

A few years ago when searching for a more meaningful way to design annual employee goals, I discovered CLEAR goals, which stand for Collaborative, Limited, Emotional, Appreciable, and Refinable.


Collaboration is at the heart of CLEAR goals. Unlike SMART goals that often emphasize individual achievement, CLEAR goals encourage teamwork and collective effort. They recognize that the best results often come from pooling diverse skills and perspectives. This approach not only leverages the strengths of the entire team but also fosters a sense of shared purpose and community, crucial for maintaining high levels of engagement and motivation.

Independence is another critical aspect of CLEAR goals. By allowing goals to be refinable, this approach is agile and responsive. We are empowered to adapt our objectives as new information emerges or situations evolve. This flexibility not only makes goals more attainable but also encourages a sense of ownership and autonomy. When we feel we have the independence to shape our goals, we are more likely to be invested in the outcome.

Flow, a concept identified by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, refers to the state of being completely immersed and focused on an activity. CLEAR goals, with their emphasis on emotional and appreciable elements, facilitate this state. By ensuring that goals resonate on an emotional level, we are more likely to find our work fulfilling and engaging. Similarly, by breaking down larger objectives into smaller, appreciable tasks, we can experience a sense of achievement and progress more frequently, which sustains our motivation and keeps us in the flow.

While SMART goals will always have their place in certain types of projects and industries, CLEAR goals offer a more dynamic and human-centered approach. They align better with the values of mission-driven organizations that prioritize flexibility, personal growth, and collaboration. 

For my coaching client, after using CLEAR goals, the most significant change she noted was in how she related to her goals. The Emotional and Appreciable elements of CLEAR goals made a profound impact. She felt a deep, personal connection to her objectives. These goals were no longer just tasks to be completed; they resonated with her values and aspirations, making them more meaningful and motivating.

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