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Frans Riemersma, 24 Jan '16

Goal Setting Acronyms - Three Attributes They Have in Common

Can goal setting get any SMART-er? 11 new goal acronyms bring you 3 fundamentally new attributes to sharpen your goals and objectives.

Everybody knows SMART goals. But did you know that less than a third of goals are actually SMART in practice? That is what must have sparked some authors to aim for smarter acronyms, such as CLEAR, HARD, SUCCESS, QUEST, ACTION, EXACT and even DUMB.

Do you remember what the SMART acronym stands for? George T. Doran wrote a paper titled “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management’s goals and objectives”. According to George T. Doran making objectives SMART means they need to be: Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic and Time-related.

The large amount of available goal acronyms can be overwhelming. It is time for a deep dive into the pool of new acronyms.

11 new goal acronyms in one overview

How do the ‘new arrivals’ stack up to the hugely popular SMART acronym? What are their pros and cons? And do they bring something fundamentally new to the table?

We found two groups of goal acronyms. The acronyms exclusively articulated by their authors only (8 in total), and the ones that are also regularly cited by other media (3 in total). The second group of course shows a higher adoption in the market space than the first one. You are therefore more likely to come across an acronym out of the second group.”

Three SMART goal alternatives cited by other media


Founder. The founding father of the CLEAR acronym is Adam Kreek. He is an Olympic gold medalist who is now a motivational speaker and entrepreneur.


Collaborative. Goals should encourage employees to work together collaboratively and in teams.

Limited. Goals should be limited in both scope and duration.

Emotional. Goals should make an emotional connection to employees, tapping into their energy and passion.

Appreciable. Large goals should be broken down into smaller goals so they can be accomplished more quickly and easily for long-term gain.

Refinable. Set goals with a headstrong and steadfast objective, but as new situations or information arise, give yourself permission to refine and modify your goals.

Relation to SMART.

Collaborative, Emotional and Refinable are new elements not included in SMART.Limited is comparable to Achievable or Timely in SMART. Arguably, Appreciablein CLEAR is AchievableMeasurable or Specific in SMART, depending on how you look at it.

Biggest Pro.

The CLEAR acronym supports complexity and breakthrough thinking. It suits agile teams, encouraging them to set Collaborative and Refinable goals. CLEAR goals are a good fit when it comes to setting goals for teams that seek a more agile framework and innovation. Consequently, it should work well in today’s increasingly volatile environments.

Biggest Con.

The very nature of CLEAR is ambition and innovation. It is not clear how CLEAR works in less innovative environments, e.g. daily operations of manufacturing plants. Making goals Refinable and inspiring teams to Collaborate might not be necessary when daily operations prosper from highly standardized operations and the environment is highly predictable.


“When we prepared for our Atlantic [rowing boat] crossing, our higher goal was to cross the Atlantic Ocean, but we also created three rules to support that higher goal. The first rule was don’t die, the second rule was don’t kill your mates, and the third was don’t sink your boat. So look after yourself, look after each other, and look after your equipment.”


Founder. HARD is Envisioned by Mark Murphy, CEO at Leadership IQ.


HeartfeltThe more emotionally attached we are to our goals, the higher the likelihood that we’ll achieve them.

Animated. Visualize what you are going after. The more you replay the “movie” of your vision, the more urgency you create, and the closer you will get to achieving your goal.

Required. The more urgency you have around what you’re working toward, the more likely you are to get it. Don’t procrastinate. What is the one specific thing you need to do today to keep you on course for achieving a big goal?

Difficult. Necessity is the mother of invention. Don’t shy away from goals that seem out of reach. Make your next goal 20%-30% more difficult than your previous goal. “If you don’t have to learn anything new, it is not really a goal.“

Relation to SMART.

Heartfelt, Animated and Difficult are no requirements in SMART. Required is a remarkable combination of Specific, Timely and Attainable in SMART. However,Timely in SMART does not mean ‘today’ in most cases, while it does in Required.

Biggest Pro.

It acknowledges undesirable human tendencies and provides easy work-arounds. The strong emphasis on human emotions and psychology gives a good framework as to what a goal in general should try to achieve.

Biggest Con.

The emphasis on human emotions delivers general goal requirements. This makes it more like goal directions, just like the KISS acronym, rather than a checklist to formulate a strong goal.


Founder. Unknown. There are several authors covering the DUMB acronym. This has resulted is a wide and wild variety of DUMB acronyms.


DUMB variant #1 by Lisa Young

Doable – Unrealistic goals may turn out to be doable after all.

Understandable – Explain the value of achieving goals.

Meaningful – Worthwhile goals are easier to achieve.
Believable – Develop willingness to achieve goals.

DUMB variant #2 by Brendon Burchard

Dream Driven – Start with dreaming big.

Uplifting  Set inspiring, positive, joyous, uplifting goals.

Method Friendly – Create a practice around it.

Behavior driven – Set up behavioral triggers. Cues.

DUMB variant #3 by Dustin Wax




Big goals

Biggest Pro

The basic idea is derived from an observation made in “Effective Negotiating,” by Chester A. Karrass. He learned that in negotiations, appearing dumb is often a great strategy to achieve your sales objectives. It is similar to the “not-knowing position” of therapists in psychology.

Biggest Con

DUMB isn’t a really appealing word. None of the DUMB variants reflect the “appearing dumb” or “not knowing” state.

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8 SMART goal alternatives exclusively articulated by their authors

ACTION by Tom Terwilliger.

  • Accessible
  • Clearly Stated and Concise
  • Towards and Timed
  • Impassioned
  • Organic
  • As if Now

EXACT by Carol Wilson

  • EXciting
  • Assessable
  • Challenging
  • Time framed

FRAME by Woods & Whitehead.

  • Few
  • Realistic
  • Agreed
  • Measured
  • Explicit frame

QUEST by W. Timothy Gallwey in relation to setting learning goals.

  • Qualities
  • Understanding
  • Expertise
  • Strategic thinking
  • Time 

QUEST mentioned by Paul Williams.

  • Quantitative, Quantifiable
  • Usable
  • Economic sensitive/capable
  • Specific
  • Timely, Time specific

SUCCESS mentioned by John E. Tropman in relation to HR goal setting.

  • Simple
  • Understandable
  • Competence-driven
  • Communicated clearly
  • Equitable
  • Share vision
  • Sustain enthusiasm

FABRIC mentioned by Paul Williams.

  • Focused
  • Appropriate
  • Balanced
  • Robust
  • Integrated
  • Cost effective 

PRAGMATIC mentioned by Paul Williams.

  • Proximate
  • Relevant, reliable, reportable
  • Achievable
  • Game-proof
  • Measurable
  • Appropriate
  • Timely, Time-based
  • Integrated
  • Cost-effective

3 new goalsetting attributes

Don’t let the sheer amount of new goal setting acronyms overwhelm you.

The new goal setting acronyms are actually quite consistent in what they add to the SMART attributes. There are only three fundamentally new directives.

• Break big goals down and connect to bottom – Set big abstract goals to give direction as to which smaller task should be achieved.

• Get the people going – Make goals inspiring and emotional, even if their attainment is uncertain.

• Become Agile – Make goals collaborative and evaluable; build in iterations. Share goals; stimulate teamwork.

The new acronyms highlight the challenge to combine the big and the small, the emotional and the rational, the abstract and the concrete. They also underline the necessity to make goals agile and collaborative.

With that in mind we are looking forward for the next wave of acronyms propagating a ‘can’t go wrong’ syntax similar to the compelling User Story”, the “Customer Value Proposition Ad lib”, “Definition of Success” and the “Before I Die, I want to…“.

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