Part 1 of 2: Use the SMART acronym to set better goals. Learn how to make your future goals specific and measurable.
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, let’s focus on the first two smart characteristics: specific and measurable.
The first characteristic of a good goal that you should focus on is that the goal is specific. Make the goal unambiguous. Tell people what to do, why they’re doing it, who’s accountable, and what the performance standards are. Don’t have non-specific goals like we should optimize our performance. What does that mean? How are people going to behave if you just tell them go optimize our performance? They won’t know what to work on.
Make your goals specific. Tell them things like we’re going to increase department sales by 12% to achieve a corporate sales increase of 8%. Let them know the performance standards. Those standards can be things like error rates, speed, safety incidents, and quality scores. You can be driving a specific metric like profits or sales. Without specificity, they’re going to work on the wrong things or focus on the wrong outcomes. That’s going to hurt performance and frustrate everybody who’s involved. If a goal is specific, they’ll know exactly what to work on.
When you write a goal, take a step back and imagine you just hired somebody new. You’re going to give them that goal. When you give them the goal, will they know what to work on? Will they know what your behavioral expectations are? If not, you need to take more time and think about how to make that goal more specific. Tell them what you want changed, why it’s important, and what behaviors they should demonstrate that will help them achieve that goal.
The second characteristic of a good goal is that it’s measurable. If you can’t measure a goal, you don’t know if you’re making progress on it or not. You won’t know if you succeeded in achieving it. And don’t just think about the metric you’re going to use. You have to think through what data you’re going to pull. What reports are you going to use to track how you’re tracking against the goal? What’s the frequency of measurement you’re going to use? What measurement method are you going to use? Will you use actual results or sampling? There’s nothing worse than arguing about if you hit a goal or not because the data or reporting was questionable. If you spell those things out early in the goal-setting process, there’s much more clarity on the back end as to whether or not you hit the goal.
Make sure the measure is an accurate reflection of the desired outcome. If I want customer retention for my organization, I shouldn’t measure things like customer survey results or qualitative answers to questions from our customers when we call them. People don’t always tell the truth, or they may give you answers they think you want to hear, but they really aren’t reflective of their actual behavior. If I want retention, I should measure the total number of customers I have and how many of them I lose. Try to make your measure as direct a reflection of the metric as possible.
For example: at one point, I ran a call center organization. We thought we wanted customer satisfaction. And we set that as a goal upfront. The thing is, what we were really after was customer retention. So when we had that customer satisfaction goal, we measured things like a voice of the customer survey. We looked at how many times customers were calling us back. We would call customers and ask them about their experience. And we thought we were doing great because all those things were trending in a positive direction.
The problem was we weren’t measuring the right things. And it drove the wrong behaviors. Our associates started being much nicer to customers because they knew we were going to call the customer and ask, “How was your experience?” And our associates thought if the customer was happier, they would get better scores. The thing is, we weren’t measuring the right thing. It didn’t matter how nice the associate was. What mattered was if they solved the customer’s problem. When we started measuring first-time problem resolution, it changed the associate behaviors. They started focusing much more on: “Here’s the customer’s issue. How do I solve it in one call?” And guess what? Retention went up because of it.
When you’re thinking through your goals and you think about making them measurable, think through how you can directly measure that goal. What sources of data are you going to use, and how will you report out to the organization? Because with that clarity, you’re going to drive behavior change much more rapidly.
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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