This guest blog post was written by TEAMES & CO, which exists to end the practice of “team building,” and instead is committed to a future where all organizations invest in building truly effective teams. Our mission is to develop, equip, and empower exceptional teams that drive revenue and organizational growth by delivering extraordinary customer experiences.

We all know setting strong goals is of the utmost importance for healthy organizations. Goals help us prioritize, say no to things not directly relevant to our end mission, and they give us a valuable picture of success. Goals help us understand if we’re being effective as organizations and as people.

Most of us have heard the term SMART Goals. I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve even been to a seminar or had training on SMART Goals. But I ask you. Are you currently using the SMART Goal framework to set goals for your organization, or for your own role? I wouldn’t be shocked if the answer is no.

Many of us, even those of us who have heard of SMART Goals, fail to use them. This short article provides an overview of what SMART Goals are and is intended to be a source of encouragement for all of us to use them more effectively from this day forward.

Five Principles of Setting SMART Goals

So, what are SMART goals?

SMART Goals: SMART is an acronym for goal-setting that stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. It is believed that the acronym was coined by George T. Doran, a consultant and a former Director of Corporate Planning for Washington Water Power Company.

“Managers are confused by all the verbal from seminars, books, magazines, consultants, and so on. Let me suggest, therefore, that when it comes to writing effective objectives, corporate officers, managers, and supervisors just have to think of the acronym SMART.”-George T. Doran.

1) Specific: How to Set Specific Goals

Your goals must be specific in order to properly evaluate success. For instance, let’s consider a case study for somebody who wants to go back to school.

  • An ineffective goal would be to say: “I’d like to go back to school.” This statement is ambiguous and will lead to confusion. For instance, what kind of school? Are you working to finish high school? Are you hoping to go to medical school?
  • A more effective goal defines the intended outcome with a high degree of specificity. For example: “I’d like to earn an MBA from Kellogg School of Management.” This intended outcome is very specific and leaves no room for ambiguity.

2) Measurable: How to Set Measurable Goals

Moving forward, it’s important for goals to have clear success measures. Oftentimes we’ll call these “KPIs” or Key Performance Indicators. Simply put, using clear measures will help you evaluate whether or not you’re on track to achieve those goals.

Let’s use the above example of going back to school. Consider if the person who’s interested in setting an effective goal said the following:

  • “I’m going to study hard so I can get accepted into Kellogg, so I can earn my MBA.” There is nothing to measure in that statement. It’s very difficult to ascertain whether that person is on track to achieve his or her goal.
  • A more effective goal would be to say: “I’m going to study for two hours a day for the next three months until my GMAT exam date on July 15th. My goal is to earn a score of 720, so that I can earn acceptance into Kellogg School of Management and, therefore, earn my MBA in the next three years.

As you can see, using measurable KPIs will allow this goal-setter to understand if he or she is on track, or if he or she needs to course correct.

3) Achievable: How to Set Achievable Goals

Goals must be both stretch goals without being unattainable. Consider our earlier example.

  • What if our goal-setter is a 14-year-old who is about to start high school, and has no work or business experience. The next goal may not be to get an MBA at this point! The goal is not (at this time of their life) achievable because this person hasn’t come anywhere close to attaining the relevant experience required to be accepted into an MBA program.
  • On the other hand, what if the goal setter is a 30-year-old who had great undergraduate grades, has developed an impressive work portfolio and is highly motivated to continue progressing his or her career. This is a goal-setter who has achieved the requirements that would be considered by the admissions officer. As such, while getting into a great MBA program will be a stretch for anybody, it is still achievable for this person.

4) Relevant: How to Set Relevant Goals

In a similar vein, you should only be setting goals that are relevant to your life ambitions.

  • What if our goal-setter has a lifelong ambition to be an astronaut? Then setting a goal to get an MBA is not as relevant as a degree in engineering or flight experience! Since an MBA is not a necessary step to becoming an astronaut, the goal is unaligned.
  • However, if the goal-setter has an objective to become a strategy consultant, then earning an MBA is a great option to enable that career path. It’s relevant.

5) Time-Bound: How to Set Time-Bound Goals

Finally, goals should have very clear time bounds. If you set a goal too far in the future, it won’t help motivate the action that you need to take TODAY to make substantial progress in your life or in your work.

Consider the example that we give in the “measurable” topic. The dates that were set are both measurable AND serve to set time bounds. The goal of the goal-setter in this example is to earn his or her MBA in three years. In order to do so, he or she has stepped back the goal into more discrete items with shorter timelines to work on immediately – starting with studying two hours per day for three months in preparation for the GMAT exam.

TEAMES & CO is a consulting firm that specializes in helping organizations become more effective. A core part of this is working to develop SMART goals with our clients. If this is something that you struggle with or want to learn more about implementing, please Contact us for more information about setting SMART goals at your company.