Part 2 of 2: Use the SMART acronym to set better goals. Learn how to make your future goals achievable, relevant, and time-bound.
When you go to set goals, I suggest you try to set smart goals. Smart is an acronym. It stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. These are the key characteristics of a good goal. Now there are multiple versions of smart out there, but they all get to the same thing: creating clear and actionable goals that matter.
This week, we’re talking about the last three SMART characteristics: achievable, relevant, and time-bound. If you missed the first two characteristics—specific and measurable—check out last week’s post here.
Another characteristic of a good goal is that the goal is achievable. If a goal is too extreme, people won’t even try. You may have heard of the term “big, hairy, audacious goals.” That sounds great—let’s set a huge goal for the team and they’ll try really hard to achieve it. The thing is, those types of goals can be very demotivating. The team looks at it and they say, “We don’t even have a chance. We’re guaranteed to fail. So you know what, forget it. I’m not even going to try.”
And if a goal is too easy, people won’t care about it or see it as meaningful. “Oh, 1% improvement? No problem, I can do that in my sleep.” And then what happens? They don’t focus on it and they fail to have any impact. You need to balance how achievable a goal is. It can’t be too easy, and it can’t be too hard. People need to feel like they can be successful, which includes the notion of them having the skills or being able to build the skills required to achieve that goal.
You’ll also need to make sure that they have the resources and support available to achieve it. I work with a team that was responsible for reducing our customer cancels. We had customers and they would call up and cancel our service on a regular basis. The team was given a goal: reduce cancels by 20%.
The team kind of freaked out at that. First, it was a huge number, 20%. Their eyes popped out of their heads when they heard that number. The thing that made it even less achievable was that they didn’t have control over the relationship with a customer. The team was going to have to work through others in order to achieve this goal.
The team looked at the goal and they said, “That’s not achievable. There’s no way we can ever hit that number. And we don’t have the ability to get that goal done. So you know what, forget it.” The team wrote it off and they accepted failure right from the get go because the goal wasn’t achievable.
When you set a goal, ask your team these questions: Is this something that you care about? Is this something you think you can achieve? Do you have the skills? Do you have the support? Do you have the resources to make this happen?
Now, the team could be uncomfortable when you set a big goal. That’s okay, as long as they have some sense that if they work really hard and everything comes together, that they’re going to able to hit that number. So take a step back, look at your goals, and ask, “Is this something that’s achievable?” If not, revise the goal until it’s something that is.
The next characteristic of a good goal is that the goal is relevant. If the goal doesn’t matter to the organization or to the leader, the team won’t understand why they’re working on it.
Let’s say I set this goal for my team: I want you to knit 18 sweaters by the end of December. That goal is really specific, it’s really measurable, and it’s very actionable. The thing is, it might not be relevant—especially if I’m the head of the emergency room at a large hospital. I’m giving people a goal of knitting sweaters? Now this is an extreme example. But many times, we’ll set goals that aren’t relevant to the outcome we’re trying to drive.
If I want sales growth, I’m likely more interested in actual dollars of incremental sales, versus measuring new customers acquired. Why? It would seem like measuring new customers would tie to my sales goal. But here’s the problem: if I set a goal for new customers versus sales dollars, my team might not demonstrate the behaviors I want. They may go out and sign up a whole bunch of customers, but they may all be really tiny. If I tell them I want sales dollars, they’ll go out and try and find the bigger customers to drive toward that goal. It’s more relevant.
The goal should tie directly to the desired outcome. If you can’t explain how the goal drives behavior in one or two steps, that goal isn’t relevant enough to drive the behavior change you’re looking for.
The last characteristic of setting a SMART goal is that it is time-bound. Set a time limit on the goal. It will create urgency and help focus the efforts of everyone involved. Without a time component, the goal becomes meaningless. If I don’t tell them when I need it done, they’re going to take as much time as they need. The time-bound aspect of a goal enables progress tracking, and it helps you break the goal down into chunks of work that can be completed over time.
I recently wrote a book with a co-author. We had a deadline for turning the manuscript in, and it had to be 50,000 words. We then broke that down into smaller, time-bound chunks. We had a spreadsheet where we said, “By this date, we need this word count.” And we also had a first draft due by this date.
We were able to track our progress every single day. We knew if we were getting ahead on our word count, or, more commonly, when we got behind. And when we did get behind, because we knew time was running out, it forced us to prioritize our work and go heads-down to get as much writing done as we could in a very short period of time. We finished the manuscript ahead of time, and we even had time for additional editing. That was another time-bound goal that we put in there.
When you set goals, let people know when they need to be completed and the interim measurement points that you’re going to use. This time-bound component is going to drive urgency and allow you to track progress as things move forward.
Want to learn more about setting team and employee goals? How about taking an entire course on it? Check out the video below to learn more about the course and get started. Or you can go directly to the course and start learning how to assess and improve your goal setting. The entire course is available at LinkedIn Learning. Enjoy!
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