Published on 03/04/2015
Just What is a SMART Goal? A Definition for the Rest of Us.
If you search for SMART goals on Google it returns almost 27 million results.* That’s an awful amount of noise for a generally simple idea worth a measly 7 points on a Scrabble board. But it seems a lot of people want someone to define what SMART goal means. If you find the sheer numbers of articles on this topic intimidating, have no fear, I’m here to walk you through the process. After we’re done, you’ll be the smartest person in your organization on how to set appropriate SMART goals. Not to mention, how to achieve them.
Let’s start by breaking it all down, letter by letter.
The good news is this portion of a SMART goal is the easiest part of the equation to define. Don’t just say you want to increase sales this year. Which areas are you looking to improve? Maybe you’re looking to increase your channel partner business? Maybe you want your senior Account Executives to have different goals than your junior folks. Great, get specific and write it out.
Congrats, now that you’ve announced you want to improve your channel partner sales, it’s best to define what success will looks like. Here’s an easy tip to make this portion of defining the SMART goal setting process easy. If you can include the words increase, decrease, or maintain into your goal statement you’re now in measurable territory. For example; Increase channel partner sales by 20%. Think about it, if you’re looking to move a number, there’s only three things it can do: go up, go down, or stay the same.
Take a look at your sales numbers. What’s been your rate of growth over the past few years? 20% increases every year? The Human Resource team at the University of Virginia suggests that you should stretch your goals slightly so you feel challenged, but be realistic enough so you can, with effort, achieve them. So you’ve historically grown your sales by 20% annually, why not shoot for 25% this year? Get out of your comfort zone and shoot for the stars. Just be sure that you’re not shooting for a star in a completely different galaxy.
Oh, and while on the subject, the topic of Achieving goals is something our team is quite familiar with. Our product, known appropriately as AchieveIt, is designed to align the setting of SMART goals (and other kinds of goals, OKRs, etc.) with the execution of the business plan. Which is the most important step in achieving your goals, once you establish what they are.
Goals are inherently optimistic. But that doesn’t always make them worthwhile, especially when you are speaking of business goals where it’s essential for goals at each and every level to align with goals at every other level. Otherwise, it’s likely your dreams won’t come true. So if your individual goal is to run a marathon this year, but the corporate goal is launch ten new products, you have missed the mark. The marathon is fine for a personal goal, but not relevant at the business level.
It is worth noting that some people still define the R in SMART goals as “Realistic.” Our feeling is “Realistic” and “Achievable” are essentially the same thing, which would make using both redundant. Relevant is a far better choice for keeping SMART goals on track and defining just what SMART goals mean.
Be sure to assign specific timetables to your SMART goals. If you’re going to increase sales, how long do you have to make that happen? It’s no secret that most people operate better under pressure and nothing turns up the pressure other than tight timelines. I’m a huge fan of quarterly goals because it’s a long enough time frame to put a strategy in place but short (time-bound) enough to instill a sense of urgency.
So there you have it! Now if anyone asks, what is a SMART goal and why they are suddenly so top-of-mind, you will be ready to define them in simple terms. It all comes down to:
- What do you specifically want to do?
- How will you measure success?
- Can you reasonably achieve it?
- Is it relevant to the needs of the business and those you work with?
- And finally, when will you have it all done?
Sounds easy right? Now it’s time for the fun part, taking what you learned in this article and building out your own SMART goals. Go forth!
* Funny to note that while “SMART Goals” turns up what will likely hit 30 million results on Google in the next few weeks, the goal setting measure Google management uses internally, which we’ll address in future posts, known as OKRs, turns up less than 180,000 times. At least it proves they are unbiased!