I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “Let’s think outside the box.” If we’ve already tried doing that with unsatisfying results, then perhaps the time has come to “dream” outside the box rather just “think.”

Of course, thinking outside the box can be done a couple of ways.  Are you thinking linearly, or systemically?  That’s another topic for another day.

If you’ve done any kind of goal planning, you’ve undoubtedly run into someone who has said to make sure your goals are SMART goals. According to Wikipedia, the first known use of the term occurred in the November 1981 issue of Management Review by George T. Doran. It’s a mnemonic device to help one remember qualities of goals and objectives in project management, performance management, and personal development. The letters broadly conform to the words specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound.

Some rudimentary research shows there are quite a few variations of what the 5 letters stand for, and Paul J. Meyer is credited with explaining these 5 qualities in his publication, “Attitude is Everything.”

Further, after one created their SMART goals, it was considered a “best practice” to share those goals with others, based on the belief that if shared with others, coworkers, family and other individuals would help you attain the goals you’ve set for yourself.

Then in 2012, Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson (creators of the “Results Only Work Environment”) came to the conclusion that SMART goals will only set one up for failure!  Visit this link for a Medium article about 6 reasons why SMART goals don’t work (You may need to have a subscription to Medium to read the article).

And current brain research shows that it’s probably not a good idea to share your goals either. Why? When you do, and you keep reviewing them, your brain begins to believe that you have already begun to achieve them.

Such a mindset is not a good motivator.

So, should one even bother to set goals? Of course! But what does goal setting have to do with Systems Thinking?

The five attributes of a goal work together as a system. For instance, it does no good if a goal is specific, measurable, relevant and time-bound, but is not attainable.

Then what kind of goals should one set? Ressler and Thompson recommend setting “Outcome-based goals.”

Outcome-based goals get everyone on the same page, pointing everyone on the team toward a common goal first, and then shift the focus to destinations rather than activities.

Conversely, SMART goals are reached based on activities rather than destinations; that is, those things you do are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound.  The goal isn’t necessarily a SMART one.

Such a mindset points to the importance of vision. Scripture says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18). The second habit of Stephen R. Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” is “Begin With the End in Mind.” A vision can also be described as the “dream” that one has.

So, perhaps we can create ARMED goals that focus preparing us to face the battle ahead of us.  Previously, I called these DREAM goals, since “vision” and “dream” convey the same type of experience.  Using the DREAM, mindset, a goal could be defined, realistic, expedient, attainable and measurable.

Upon closer investigation, these are not the qualities of a DREAM or a vision; in fact, if you put “un,” “non,” or “im” in front of those words, then undefined, unrealistic, non-expedient, unattainable and immeasurable are more in line with what a vision, or a dream, is.

So, let’s be action-oriented, and be ARMED, ready to face the obstacles that have been negatively impacting our schools…and look at how the elements line up:  attainable, realistic, measurable, expedient, and defined.  These elements are excellent evaluative points of one’s goals.  For instance:

Attainable – is the goal set something that others of have done?  Lets take the example of starting an Annual Appeal for your school.  Is it attainable?  Sure!  Many schools have annual appeals.  Truthfully, it’s the heart of any Development initiative.  So starting one is definitely an attainable goal.

Realistic – is the goal something you can do?  While you may have to prioritize planned activities, you could certainly craft an appeal letter with a compelling case statement and uses for the funds generated by the effort, and mail them to your lists of constituent groups.

Measurable – if the goal can be measured, then it can be managed.  If you’re goal is $100,000, and you only raise $85,000, you can say that you’ve raised 85% of your goal.  Measurable doesn’t imply that you can reach your goal, only that you can apply metrics to it.

Expedient – there needs to be a timeframe associated with reaching the goal.  Usually, this is stated right up front, as in, “By December 31 this year, we will raise $100,000 from an annual appeal.”  It’s only by setting timeframes that lessons learned can be incorporated into the planning for the next annual appeal to ensure an even greater success.

Defined – this is the “how” involved in reaching the goal.  It’s the plan associated with the system; the plan within the plan, so to speak.  It’s not enough to say you’re going to raise $100,000.  You’ll need to break it down into smaller steps.  For instance:

1 gift of $5,000 = $5,000

5 gifts of $1,000 = $5,000

10 gifts of $500 = $5,000

50 gifts of $100 = $5,000

200 gifts of $50 = $10,000

2800 gifts of $25 = $70,000

That means you’ll need about 3,066 gifts…which means your mailing list should have about 10,000 names.

This outline may or may not be appropriate for your school, especially if you’re just getting started with an annual appeal and don’t have a database with 10,000 records, but you can see how an outline of milestones is defined to provide a guide to determining if the appeal will be a success.

Goal setting is an exercise in shaping the future, the vision, the long view, the bigger picture – rather than focusing  things that are happening right now in front of us.  And, more often than not, it’s only from a distance that the successful system can be observed.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2012-2022