January 6, 2009

Setting Smart Goals for New Year

It is that time of year when many companies and their leader begin to develop goals for the year. Often these goals are meant to stretch the organization and its people towards growth in profits and production. Occasionally the goals may be designed around cost reduction and effective use of resources. Whichever is the desire, when you are developing goals, design them effectively by making sure the goals are SMART. SMART goals mean different things to different people and the words for the acronym change based on who you may be listening to. The important thing is for the SMART goals to mean something to the organization, department, or team and be written where progress can be easily tracked so everyone knows when the goals have been met.

The words I like to use for SMART goals are: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time based. I think most experts use specific as the first portion of the acronym as this requires the goal-setter to think about clear, detailed targets verses just putting dreams into words. Dreams are nice, but goals need to suggest actions to be taken. The word measurable means that some sort of quantity or percentage needs to be established as the target to hit in order to know the goal will be accomplished. Without a measurement, the goal can not be tracked so that action can be taken if the goal is in trouble of not being met. The A is typically either attainable or achievable. I prefer attainable as it sounds more like it requires an effort, which every goal should involve stretching the current limits or challenging people to perform higher. The R should be for relevant as every goal needs to mean something to those who are to work towards it and be written in a way that they can engage in the process of reaching it. Making it relevant helps the goal seeker with motivation towards attainment, whereas setting a goal that is realistic could be just maintaining the status quo or aiming at too low of a improvement target. And finally time-based means a date for accomplishment or a timeframe (such as weekly, monthly, or quarterly) for meeting measurements is set for every goal. Without the time-based portion it is hard to develop a plan for reaching the specific goal.

Since the important thing is for the SMART goals to mean something to your organization, department, or team, first check out what SMART means for your business. Second, ask yourself questions about your needs for the upcoming business year. Then begin to write and refine your goals where the organization, department, or team progress may be tracked so those working to reach the goals will know when the target is hit. If you are setting yearly goals and the goals are accomplished early, then you may not have stretched yourself and your teams enough. Re-evaluate any goals that are met early and determine if the goals needs to be updated in order to make it more challenging. Before changing and communicating a revised goal, be sure to celebrate reaching the original goal to keep the momentum going. Then explain why the goal is being updated and get agreement to making the new goal the next target.

NOTE: Other optionally used words for the SMART goal acronym are in an article at http://www.timethoughts.com/goalsetting/smart-goals.htm

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