Are You Using “Smart Goals” (or more specifically, S.M.A.R.T. Goals)?

Setting goals are absolutely necessary for achieving high-level results.

S.M.A.R.T. Goals is a criteria for setting goals and S.M.A.R.T. is a mnemonic acronym that serves as a guide or a checklist for how you should be setting a goal at your company.

There’s a reason the acronym spells out the word “smart;” when used properly, this goal-setting approach is actually very clever in its guidance to executives and employees alike – it is actionable and  boosts employee performance that leads to timely results.

By the way, we use the word goal here but the correct word we typically would use for monthly or quarterly targets is “Objectives” while the word Goals is something one would typically use for more strategic priorities set for a timeline that is longer than a year. However, for simplicity, we will use goals and objectives interchangeably as that is the accepted usage in colloquial business communications and we will not get overly pedantic here (at least not in our blog articles). However, if you’d like to learn more about Goals vs. Objectives, please read our post on that topic – The Big Difference Between Goals vs. Objectives.

Here, we break down the S.M.A.R.T. approach so that you can use this method to plan – and achieve – your own goals:

Specific – goals must be specific that way, you’ll execute them with precision. The more direct you can be in structuring your goal, the more energy you’ll put into it.

So, to say that you want to “grow your business” is not a S.M.A.R.T. goal!

It fails to specify exactly what that growth means. It’s too ambiguous. To be more specific, think (realistically) about how many clients you could attain within a certain period of time. An example of a specific, S.M.A.R.T. goal might be: “Win 500 new customers by the end of Q2.”

Measureable – The goal must be quantified – it must use concrete numbers. If your goal cannot be qualified with “as measured by” then it’s not a S.M.A.R.T. goal. Neglecting to use numerals – both to quantify your goals and put a timeline on them – is like playing a game without any score.

The aforementioned goal creates a quantifiable target. If the goal-setter succeeds in getting five new clients, then she has achieved the goal; however, if the quarter winds down and she has less than five new clients, the goal has not been met. The reason this is crucial is because it allows you to assess where things went wrong, so that you can go back and make alterations as needed for the next quarter. Or, if you had no problems meeting that number, perhaps it’s time to strive for a higher goal in the future.

In either case, the only way to measure progress is to make sure that the goal is measurable in the first place. To better promote this aspect of goal achievement, remember to keep checking in, and remind yourself and your employees of the target numbers that you’re seeking – make it an integral part of daily work.

Aligned – There are some variations of the letter “A” in the “S.M.A.R.T.” goals model but one that is not obvious is that the goals must be aligned in every organization so that everyone is rowing in the same direction which is aligned with the top priorities set by the CEO of the company.

Developing S.M.A.R.T. goals becomes more and more difficult the higher you take them. In other words, having personal S.M.A.R.T. goals is relatively uncomplicated, because only one person is completing the tasks. On the other hand, if you’re writing S.M.A.R.T. goals at a company, the most complex facet of goal setting is deciding who is going to do what. So, when writing your S.M.A.R.T. goals, make sure that the tasks required for goal achievement are assigned and, importantly, aligned, to specific teams or individuals. In the end, all work must be aligned top to bottom so that every goal that your team is working on is one that is actually aligned with the top 3-5 priority goals that the CEO sets for the company each quarter or year.

If, for instance, your CEO has a top goal of “Grow Internal Customer Focus” as measured by 20% increase in Customer upsells or NPS score. Then the goal of the VP of Customer Support may be to increase customer satisfaction or NPS by 20% percent that year. She might make further cascade this goal to align it further to one of the team members focused on urgent/emergency response and even reduce a typical 24-hour time frame to a shorter time.

In fact, alignment is a critical characteristic of OKR Goal Setting (Objectives and Key Results) which is the methodology that evolved from MBOs and also from the S.M.A.R.T. Goals criteria. And we talk more about OKR Goal Setting in this article.

One last but important point on “A” in S.M.A.R.T. criteria – I always also think of letter A as one that has 3 meanings that I always reflect on when setting goals. While we discussed Aligned above, I also think of A as Aggressive because to me every goal needs to be a stretch goal. It should be also equally Achievable even when Aggressive – achievable through focus, dedication, persistence and hard work of each individual and team. The goal shouldn’t be very easy to reach but the balance between Aggressive and Achievable is an important one to keep in mind when setting goals.

Download Atiim Definitive Guide to OKRs

Relevant – To ensure that your goals are relevant, use the current business climate to frame them. You must take into consideration realities of market, the resources available to you, and whether or not this particular goal aligns with your other efforts and needs. Goals should be relevant across the board – they should matter to the CEO, to all teams, to the manager and his/her direct reports.

To determine whether or not a goal is wholly relevant, be sure that you can answer “yes” to each of the following questions: Is this goal worthwhile? Is now the right time for pursuing this goal? (Again, consider the climate of the market.) Does this align with our other efforts and needs? Is it assigned to the right people? Will this goal be applicable in the current social and economic status?

Time-based – Always select a deadline by which you must accomplish your goal. Specify the exact date when the expected results should be achieved. In the above example (attain five new clients by the end of the quarter), the time-bound aspect is clear: the result must be achieved before the quarter is over. You can take this even further, however, and structure your time-bound S.M.A.R.T. goals by determining not only when the task can be completed, but also: What can be done six months from now? What can be done in six weeks? What can be done by the end of this week? What can be done today?

Without setting time-bound goals, you run the risk of having day-to-day tasks become the priority as your larger, more ambitious goals fall to the wayside. When selecting a timeframe, try to evoke a sense of urgency, but remember to also be realistic. For example, acquiring five new clients by the end of the week would be far too difficult to even consider, but it could certainly be completed – with some effort – within a quarter.

Once you know how to shape your goals, you can then begin to develop objectives and monitor progress – because even the smartest of S.M.A.R.T. goals can still go uncompleted without enough follow-through. Atiim’s OKR goals software can walk you through the entire process, from the first stages of goal-setting to achievement, allowing the goals that matter to become the primary focus for everyone across your organization.

So the big question is: Are you using S.M.A.R.T. goals?

What else? Do you use the S.M.A.R.T. goals method? Why or why not?

Do you manage a company or teams (either as a CEO, a senior executive, a middle manager or even a front-line manager)? Do you set and track objectives? Does aligning employee performance to business goals matter, and are you responsible for driving results? If so, please check out a live demo of Atiim OKR & Goals Management Software and we’d love to hear what you think about it. Thank you!

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