I briefly covered SMART goals in my discussion on the first principles approach to project management, but I do think that this is a critical organizational tool and that it is not used enough.
This is a shame because SMART goals are highly effective and super simple to use. The acronym SMART stands for:
- Specific — The goal should be clear and specific, so that it can be easily understood and measured.
- Measurable — The goal should be quantifiable so that that progress can be tracked. In other words, put a number on it.
- Achievable — The goal should be realistic and achievable, so that it can be attained.
- Relevant — The goal should be relevant to the company’s mission and goals, so that it aligns with the company’s overall strategy.
- Time-bound: The goal should have a deadline attached to it, so that there is a sense of urgency and motivation to achieve it.
As you can see, these are all very reasonable criteria for a goal to meet. And yet, so many goals fail to meet even one of these criteria, let alone all of them.
The beauty of the SMART system is that it forces you to think carefully about your goals and to make sure that they are actually achievable. It also helps to keep everyone on the same page, because everyone understands the goal and how it will be measured.
So if you’re not using SMART goals in your organization, I highly recommend starting. It’s a simple change that can make a big difference in the success rate of your projects. It acts as a forcing function to ensure that your goals are well-defined, achievable, and aligned with your company’s overall strategy.
This is important because often organization spend a lot of time crafting strategic plans, but far less time working on execution of that strategy. This is because when you start to execute a strategy, you start a collision course with reality. Reality is messy, it doesn’t abide by whatever strategic decisions and constraints are in your plan, and it is downright confusing.
The difference between strategy and execution is that strategy is about making decisions about where you want to go, while execution is about ensuring that you actually get there. In other words, strategy is about setting the course, while execution is about navigating the waters.
Many people think that strategy and execution are the same thing, but this is not the case. Strategy is the high-level plan, while execution is the day-to-day work of making that plan a reality.
There is a lot of crossover between strategy and execution, of course, and they both rely on each other for success. But it’s important to understand the distinction between them to manage your organization better.
Ideally, you want to have a good strategic plan in place with well-set SMART goals, and then execute it flawlessly.
But in reality, things are never that simple. The best you can do is to try to align your execution as closely as possible with your strategy, and hope for the best.
This is where SMART goals come in. By setting specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound goals, you can ensure that your execution is aligned with your strategy and that you are making progress towards your desired outcomes.
There are a few things to keep in mind when setting SMART goals:
1) Be realistic in what you can achieve. It’s important to set goals that challenge you but are still achievable. If a goal is too easy, you will quickly become bored and demotivated. If a goal is too hard, you will become frustrated and give up.
2) Make sure your goals are specific. A goal like “improve customer satisfaction” is too vague. How will you know if you’ve achieved it? What does “improvement” look like? A better goal would be “increase customer satisfaction scores by 5% within 6 months.” This goal is specific, measurable, and time-bound.
3) Make sure your goals are relevant to your company’s mission and values. If a goal doesn’t align with your company’s strategy, it’s likely to be a distraction and a waste of time and resources.
4) Make sure your goals are challenging but achievable. A goal like “double our revenue in 6 months” might be achievable if you’re a small startup, but it would be nearly impossible for a large company. On the other hand, a goal like “increase revenue by 10% in 6 months” is much more realistic and achievable.
5) Make sure your goals are time-bound. A goal without a deadline is not really a goal at all, it is a dream. By setting a deadline, you create a sense of urgency and motivation to achieve it.
So there you have it: the SMART system for setting goals.