Goal development is an integral component for personal, professional, and organizational success. Goals drive direction to produce a result. Without a goal it is impossible to know where you are going. It would be like getting into your car and driving without a destination; there is no point in doing so. Now, my wife used to get into her car and just drive without a destination. But in this case, she just wanted to get out on her own and just think. The goal was not the destination, rather the opportunity to process her thoughts.
Have you ever heard someone say that they do not create goals, that way they cannot fail? Maybe even you have said this. The idea is, without a goal there is no chance of failing since there is no targeted result. This is a “wing it” type of lackadaisical attitude towards achieving something. This attitude is often aimed at some form of personal development preceded by a past failure.
The reality is most people create goals (sometimes subconsciously) to accomplish something. “I am not going to do anything today” is still a goal, with the result of accomplishing nothing. People with the idea of “no goal making for me” or often referring to a stretch goal such as a college degree or losing a few pounds. In the work place, this could be increasing sales by 10% each quarter, taking on a new routine task, or improving a process and reducing paper usage.
So we know goals are important, but what is a good goal to set and how is it developed? The acronym SMART has been used to help guide the goal development process. SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time bound. The SMART process is a great way to clearly identify the goal, how to know when it has been achieved, and some important characteristics of the goal.
Let’s define SMART
A goal must be as specific as possible. Instead of losing weight or increasing sales, you want to lose 15 pounds in 3 months by going to the gym 3 times per week or increase sales by 10% in 45 days by contacting 10 more potential clients per week. Some goals are a bit more challenging to specify, but the more clear the desired result is, the easier it will be to monitor and assess. Answer the 5 W’s (who, what, when, where, why) to help the goal become more specific.
A goal must be measured otherwise it is impossible to identify if progress is being made or when the goal is achieved. Measuring progress becomes some level of accountability and helps you remain focused on what is important. A measureable goal includes how many or how much and identifies what success looks like. The goal to lose 15 pounds in 3 months could be measured by checking weight loss each month and tracking the frequency of working out. Success looks like 15 pounds lost in 3 months.
A goal must stretch the individual or organization enough to make them work hard, but not so far as to cause unnecessary stress and strain. The goal should be just out of “arms reach.” Too far out and the goal is not likely attainable but too close and the goal will not stretch the individual or organization. An easy goal for someone in sales may be an increase of 10%, a stretch goal may be 25%, and an unattainable goal may be 50%. It is up to the individual or organization to determine what is just out of arms reach. The purpose of a goal is to stretch the individual or organization. This could require more time, training, finances, or a change of attitude.
A goal must be relevant to the person, project, or organizations mission. For example, if an organizations objective is to reduce paper usage across the state by 50% in the next fiscal year, an appropriate goal would be to develop an automated workflow to create and process PDF forms instead of printed forms and increase registered users by 2,000 each quarter.
Additionally, they must be relevant to the individual or organizational conditions. Using the same paper reduction example above, if the cost to become a registered user exceeds the budget of their target audience, then the goal of 2,000 users might not be relevant (or realistic, another “R” word used in the SMART acronym).
A goal must have a suspense. A suspense is the benchmark for which success can be assessed. A lack of a suspense results in a lack of urgency and potential failure.
To wrap it up
Whether you are looking to lose a few pounds, increase sales, or reduce your paper use, a goal may be simple or complex, long in duration or brief, involve an individual or organization. The most important fact to realize is that goals are meant to be achieved.
Jared W. Snow