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What are SMART Goals? (The Modern Definition)
Setting company goals can sometimes be quite difficult. But tools like this help to make it easier. One easy way of setting goals, particularly in the OKR process, is to use SMART goal-setting guidelines. They serve as a simple reminder to check some of the necessary boxes. For goals to meet SMART criteria, they must be ‘Specific, Measureable, Aligned, Relevant and Time-Bound’ (The ‘A’ can also stand for ‘Attainable’, in some cases, especially in the beginning).
While some goals should be within reasonable reach, these are meant to be balanced with aspirational goals, also known as ‘Moonshots’. These are intended to be far more ambitious, sometimes getting a company to seriously reconsider its approach to challenges, resulting in greater progress than expected.
This easily-memorized acronym (aka S.M.A.R.T.) has helped managers and employees improve their essential goals, while quickly abandoning those that don’t belong. This way, they save more company resources. They help align employee goals with the company’s direction and enhance employee engagement in the goal-setting process.
The SMART approach is often used to help set the KRs (Key Results) of OKR goals (Objectives and Key Results) and MOBs (Management based on Objectives).
Now, you know what SMART goals are. What is the purpose of its particular aims?
Let’s break it down:
S’ stands for Specific
Use precise and concrete language to answer ‘What will be accomplished?’ with a clear result in mind before starting down a path of action. Goals need to be specific, especially if they are going to be Key Results. Everyone needs to know what the company wants to accomplish, setting clear expectations for quarterly progress. As the quarter proceeds, staff are continually aware of where they are against their goals and can make big adjustments to their approach, if necessary.
A SMART goal, then, would not just be to ‘grow your business’.
This verbiage used here is too vague; and it fails to properly define the result – in this instance, it should define what needs to grow in particular. In this case, it is ‘revenue.’ So, the goal might come to look like the following:
“Increase Revenue Growth by 20% in Q1”
‘Increase Revenue Growth’ makes it quite clear what is being measured. It also gives a clear definition of success. Once this larger company goal is defined, managers can go about setting their other goals in alignment with it to ensure that their teams and departments are working productively towards something that is mutually agreed upon, rather than being mired with aimless tasks as is all too often the case.
Include a concrete number to quantify your goals. If the goal cannot be qualified with ‘as measured by’, then it fails to meet SMART criteria. This is like playing a game without a score. Managers will fail to understand how well they are doing and therefore will have little recourse for strategic change.
Increasing Revenue Growth by 20% in Q1 is measurable, given that it provides a quantifiable figure. This also fits requirements for a Key Result, because it is quantified both in terms of time and accomplishment.
If the company achieves its goal of increasing its revenue by 20% in Q1, the goal has been met. Otherwise, the end-of-quarter review will need to try to figure out how and why the company fell short. In doing so, it will have to figure out how to do things differently.
However, if the goal is surpassed by a significant margin, it might not have been ambitious enough.
While some SMART enthusiasts dedicate the letter ‘A’ to other ‘Attainability’, one often-overlooked approach in SMART goal setting is ‘Alignment’. In this case, true ‘alignment’ takes place when all organization members goals and objectives are in-sync with the company’s larger and most important objectives.
At the higher levels of a company, SMART goals encompass more responsibility. Managers and CEOs divide their employees time such that their own OKR goals are met. Therefore, task orientation must be cooperative and complimentary from one department to the next. When goals are written for an entire organization, they help define goals at the lower levels.
In many companies, goals are assigned for every employee and made internally public. This is the case with OKRs at Google. Only when goals are aligned between departments can employees work on tasks that are reflective of the top three to five company priorities for that quarter.
Is the goal relevant? Is it more relevant now than all the other possible goals? Is this the right time to pursue this particular objective? To answer these questions, consider the current realities of the market. You must also assess your available resources and whether or not a particular goal is consistent with the needs and capabilities of the organization. The goal needs to be essential to the company’s future, not just the result of wishful thinking.
To qualify as a SMART goal, it should matter – and be relevant – to every person in the company.
Ask yourself the following additional questions: Would everyone here consider this goal worthwhile? Does it align with the other needs and capabilities of the company? Is it industry-relevant? Is it assigned to the proper individual or team? If your answer is ‘yes’ to all of the above, then it may be appropriate.
Assign a deadline. A Quarter is great – every goal should be quarterly, not annual or monthly. Annual is too long. Monthly is too short.
Choose an exact date by which the expected results must be achieved. The end-date must be clear – it must be completed by the end of the quarter or the year.
When a company sets time-bound goals, it helps prevent wasted time on day-to-day distractions. In order to achieve the goal within the indicated time-frame, you’ll have to perform at a high level while focused on the right tasks.
Structuring objectives provides focus and clarity. Providing direction shows your team exactly where they have to go and what they have to do to get there. Engagement grows best when employees can see one another’s goals, also when they can celebrate collaborative successes and individual wins as well.
Why It Works
Writing quantified objectives allows you to develop actionable steps (Key Results) that are also quantified. Individuals and teams become laser-focused on executing each step in order to complete ambitious objectives. Setting a deadline boosts engagement and limits distractions.
Ensure that all objectives are relevant to the organization’s efforts and needs. This will drive alignment across departments and from top to bottom. Every person’s objectives need to mesh with organizational goals, even if each individual objective isn’t a company-level priority.
Now that you know more about smart goals, click here to learn more about OKRs (Objectives and Key Results), a management approach to implementing and keeping track of SMART goals company-wide.