Is it about your New Year’s resolutions, or raising your kids, or teaching kids, or setting goals for your employees – if you want them/yourself to succeed, you need to set the SMART goals. Not just any. Never heard of? No worries, just keep reading and I will try to guide you.
Learning objective: by the end of reading this article you will be able to define the goals for you and other people, using the SMART approach.
I failed in reaching my goal. Am I not smart enough or what?
For sure you are smart! But was your goal SMART?
We like to set goals in life: either for someone, or for ourselves. And it happens that we fail, or they fail, in reaching them. There could be plenty of reasons for that, but let’s focus on the most common one: was the goal set properly? And what does it mean “properly”?
Proper goal = SMART goal.
SMART like “smart” but it’s also an acronym for 5 words, that will help you in setting the goals.
Word 1: Specific
“I will start running!”, “You should get better notes!”, “We need to boost sales!”, “I will lose weight!”
No. These are not SMART, thus they’re not the good goals. They are just vague statements, that mean nothing and lead nowhere.
The goal to be SMART need to be Specific, and that means it must be precise, well defined; ie. it needs to have an endpoint. So let’s look into above phrases and try to make them more specific:
“I will start running!” – “I will run 30km…”; we are getting there…
“You should get better notes!” – “You should get at least C’s in maths…”; we almost have it…
“We need to boost sales!” – “We need to increase sales by 50%…”; that’s a good start…
“I will lose weight” – “I will lose 10kg…”; you can do it!
Can you spot the difference? The green goals are SPECIFIC: if I run 30km – I know I did achieve it; if my son gets C (or better) in maths – I know he achieved it; if the sales go higher by 50% – we know we did it; if my scales shows 10kg less – I’m there!
Exercise: Try it yourself – think of your goals and check, if they are Specific. Pick up one, make sure it’s precise. Keep it for the next exercises.
But, unfortunately, that’s not all.
Word 2: Measurable
Wait, isn’t 30km measurable already? Or the C’s in maths thing? No? But the weight loss and sales for sure! No?
Actually, they indeed are! In most of the cases the S and M exist together. But we can go deeper. These 30km I can run in about… 10hours? An average human being walks at the speed of 5km/h. That doesn’t sound like an achievement anymore if I’m that average person… And if my son brings one C and then only D’s, it doesn’t sound much better either. Also, can I track the progress towards my goal? If not – it’s not that SMART…
So let’s add a Measurable part to our SMART goals:
“I will run 30km…” – “I will run 30km in 2 hours…”
“You should get at least C’s in maths…” – “This semester minimum 90% of your maths grades should be C or above…”
“We need to increase sales by 50%…” – “We need to increase sales by 50% within our existing customers base…”
“I will lose 10kg…” – “I will lose 10kg by running 30km daily…”
I hope you see that – we are getting SMarter!
Exercise: revise your goals; are they both: Specific and Measurable? Your one chosen goal: can you track your progress?
Word 3: Achievable (Attainable)
Do you recall my running goal from above?
“I will run 30km in 2 hours…”
But I said I was that average person who walks 5km/h, and the world record for 30km is 1h27m13s, so I must ask myself a serious question here: can I do that in 2 hours?
No, I can’t. I can’t bite more, than I can chew; and I shouldn’t try, because if I fail – it’ll make me feel bad, maybe even abandon my goal, underestimate myself, etc. But what can I do? Maybe I can start from running those 30km in 4 hours? Considering my current shape it will require efforts anyway…
So here is the 3rd word of the SMART goal: Achievable.
The best way to make someone fail is to set his goals so high, he won’t ever achieve them. There are some limits to which we can push someone (including ourselves) after which we will just break the person, getting nothing. Is it his/her fault? IF we haven’t seen, that the goals set are not achievable for that person – it’s only ours. At this stage we can go and redo our SMART goals:
“I will run 30km in 2 hours…” – “I will run 30km in 4 hours”
“This semester minimum 90% of your maths grades should be C or above” – “This semester minimum 60% of your maths grades should be C or above”
“We need to increase sales by 50% within our existing customers base…” – “We will raise sales by 8-10% within our existing customers base…”. We leave some space here.
“I will lose 10kg by running 30km daily…” – “I will lose 10kg by running 3km daily…”
Easy like SMA… I mean, like abc.
Exercise: look at your goal – can you achieve it?
Word 4: Relevant
Is the goal benefiting you or/and someone? Does it solve a problem? Is it pertinent? Is it relevant? Would you go to the teacher and tell him or her “Hey, my son needs to get at least 60% of C’s or better this semester!”? It has the notion of being a SMART goal, except there is no R in this case: the problem of your kid bringing bad notes is not necessarily the problem of a teacher. Sure, I’m not saying it’s NEVER a problem of a teacher, but just setting this goal/imposing it on the teacher is irrelevant from the teacher’s perspective. On the other hand – it’s perfectly Relevant to your kid and to you.
You won’t go to your training department telling them they need to increase sales by 10% either… Nor tell yourself “I will learn programming in COBOL by the end of the week” if you don’t plan a job change.
Exercise: are the 4 goals we set so far Relevant from the perspective of: a manager, a kid, a mother, a teacher, your boss, you as the boss, yourself as a person? Is the goal you picked up at the beginning of this article relevant to you personally or professionally?
Word 5: Timely (Time-based)
We already know, that the SMART goal must be Measurable, to be able to track the progress. But there is one more element that helps us tracking the progress and staying focused on the goal: time-frame. If we can’t set the time-frame for the goal – we need to redefine it.
We already set the time-frame for the kid: “This semester minimum 60% of your maths grades should be C or above”, but we still need to do that for the other 3 goals, keeping in mind all the previous acronyms (SMAR). Because it will take us nowhere if we tell the sales team: “We need to increase sales by 10% within our existing customers base in the next 2 weeks”; let’s be serious here. We don’t want to burn them out! What is a reasonable (=ACHIEVABLE) time-frame here? Four months? Less? Make it three, just for the sake of this text. You know your team better.
Let’s finish with our SMART goals:
“I will run 30km in 4 hours…” – “I will be able to run 30km in 4 hours by the end of this year”. Sure, I still have time, we are in January!
“This semester minimum 60% of your maths grades should be C or above” – “This semester minimum 60% of your maths grades should be C or above”; I’m fine with that one, are you?
“We will increase sales by 8-10% within our existing customers base…” – “We will increase sales by 8-10% within our existing customers base in the next 3 months”. Let’s do it!
“I will lose 10kg by running 3km daily…” – “By the end of May this year I will lose 10kg by running 3km daily”. I’m not the gym coach, but that seems doable.
Exercise: I think it won’t be a big surprise to you, to revise ALL your personal goals, and New Year’s resolutions, to check if they are all SMART.
Some people propose SMARTER goals, adding Evaluate and Readjust to the equation.
I find it an interesting approach, but “evaluate” and “readjust” are action verbs, that in my opinion quit the idea of the well defined goals. At the end – when we define our SMART goals, we don’t evaluate or readjust them yet.
I agree however, that we should evaluate our goals and readjust when/if needed or possible, but these are not anymore the attributes of the goal itself.
What I propose instead is setting the SMART goals and managing the goals SMARTER.
If you haven’t heard about SMART goals before – now you know how to set them. If you knew them already – I hope you refreshed your knowledge.
There is one more thing that we should pay attention to: we can set the SMART goals, but we need to have/provide the right tools and support. That goes to the Achievable part, and sometimes – as parents, teachers or managers – we tend to forget this one.
Setting the SMART goals is crucial: we can benefit from them in our personal lives, as well as in our career; they give us something observable to achieve. And even if we don’t achieve a SMART goal – we will be able to track what we did wrong, so next time we can succeed. And when we achieve – we can just scale up and keep going! (can you do 30km in 1h30?)
Even in one of my fields – training – we have something, that corresponds to the SMART goals: in French we call it “the rule of 3C” and we use it to set the learning objectives:
- Comportement observable: observable behavior; to set that one we use the action verbs, eg: analyse, create, quote, summarize…
- Conditions de la réalisation: conditions of realization, context
- Critères de performance: the performance criteria
Can you see the similarities with the SMART goals? Now get back the the beginning of the text and read the learning objective.
Is it a SMART goal?
Did we achieve it?