If there’s one fundamental human truth, it's that we’re all striving to be just a little bit better. Whether it’s improving your personal relationships, your finances or your job performance, we’re all constantly looking for ways to get better and achieve our goals. It’s part of what makes us human.
The problem is this: Many people simply don’t reach the level of improvement they desire.
We all know someone who was incredibly motivated by their New Year’s resolution, only to get to June and realize they’ve made very little progress. In fact, only around 8% of people actually follow through on these resolutions.
So, how do you turn that desire to improve into action?
You set SMART goals, that’s how.
SMART goals are a framework for goal setting that helps you narrow down what your goal really is and how to determine when you’ve achieved it.
Rather than simply saying “I want to lose weight” or “I want to get a better job,” SMART goals define the objective down to specific, measurable metrics that you can track your progress toward.
Don’t be disheartened if your goals sound like these, 55% of Americans don’t even set goals.
SMART is an acronym that stands for:
Achievable | Attainable
The SMART goal framework helps the goal-setter break their objective down across these five different aspects.
Let’s take a look in a little more detail.
Getting specific with your goal is the first step in turning your dreams into reality, and it’s long established that 90% of the time specific goals lead to higher performance.
It means running through the standard ‘who, what, when, where, why’ and narrowing down what those factors actually mean.
Let’s take a look at each question.
Who: Who is involved? What part do they play? This is a really important component for group projects.
What: What are the details of your desired accomplishment? For example, simply stating, “I want to lose weight” is not a detailed goal. “I want to lose 20 lbs,” or “I want to drop down two dress sizes,” are more detailed, specific goals.
When: This is something you’re going to cover in much more detail in the last section of SMART goal setting (Time-bound), but you can at least set a timeframe for achieving your goal here.
Where: In some cases, location might not be so relevant. In others, it’s crucial. For example, if you’re looking for a job in a certain area of town or part of the country..
Why: What is your purpose for this objective? What is driving you to achieve it? You may need to get brutally honest with yourself here. If you’re having trouble defining what your ‘why’ is other than “because I want to,” try planning out a scenario where you don’t achieve that goal and see how it makes you feel.
Next, you need to set some metrics that allow you to determine a measurable goal.
Let’s go back to the goal of losing weight.
What defines having ‘lost weight’? If you lose a pound, is your goal obtained? Is it 10 lbs? 20 lbs? 50?
Certain goals will be really tough to set a numerical measure on.
For example, if your goal is to find a new job this year, then the only metric you can really use to assess if you’ve achieved that goal is whether you do it or not.
However, you can dig down a little deeper than that and ask: what are the steps to achieving that goal?
It might be:
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You need to break your goal down into smaller, more achievable chunks, which leads us to the next point...
SMART goals need to be achievable to be worth spending time on.
If your goal is out of reach, even for now, then you could be setting yourself up for failure.
It may not be your fault, either. Maybe you just don’t have the resources at your disposal to achieve that goal right now.
So, ask yourself if the goal is realistic given the time frame you’ve set.
Then consider what milestones you’ll need to knock down before you get there, noting these down as more achievable sub-goals that will guide you down the path toward success.
In the business sense, relevance is all about being aligned with your organization’s wider objectives.
In fact, 91% of effective companies have employees with goals linked to the company’s priorities.
On a personal level, you should assess the relevance of a goal against your main values, and against other goals you might have, as there could be some conflict.
If your goals are not relevant, there is no point in working toward them. You’ll also find it hard to motivate yourself to work on them if they lack relevance to your life or career.
The final aspect of setting SMART goals is ensuring that they are time-bound. They need to have a finite date that you’re looking to achieve them by.
This is crucial, as without setting a realistic time goal, you could end up spending years ‘working’ toward a goal, or find yourself dissatisfied with your progress because you’ve failed to set a timeline that is realistic.
You should also set timeframes for sub-goals and for check-in points.
For example, if you’re aiming to achieve your goal in 12 months, then you should ask yourself:
There are really two levels to this question:
Why is it important for anyone to write SMART goals?
Why is it important for you to write SMART goals?
Writing a SMART goal is important because, compared to simply setting a loose objective in your mind, a SMART objective allows you to:
The second half of the question (Why is it important for you to write SMART goals?) is something that only you can answer.
You can do this by simply planning out two alternate scenarios, one where you’ve achieved your specific goal and one where you haven’t.
The process of writing a SMART goal essentially involves asking yourself (and your team members, if appropriate), a whole bunch of questions.
For some goals, following the SMART criteria and process won’t take long at all. For others, setting goals might involve several planning sessions, especially for complex financial goals.
Check out this SMART goal setting template to help you get started.
To help you understand how SMART goals work in practice, let’s look at two common examples.
I want to get a promotion
I want to find a job
Hopefully, you’ve realized that each of the above is a general goal, not a SMART goal. We’re going to turn them into SMART goals following the framework we’ve just discussed.
This is a great objective to have, but it’s missing some of the crucial elements of a SMART goal.
Specific: We need to define the promotion we are looking to get.
The promotion might be from a sales role to management, so let’s specify that.
We should also answer as many questions as possible from:
So, our goal becomes: I want to be promoted to Sales Manager at the Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin.
Measurable: The measurement here is ultimately getting the job or not, but we can define a few key steps to take along the way.
This might involve attending three management seminars, or sitting in on 10 team management meetings.
Achievable: Is this an achievable goal?
If you’ve only just started, the goal might not be attainable, at least not yet.
In this case, you should discuss how achievable the goal is with your current superiors.
Relevant: This is the ‘why’ part of the equation. Is the Sales Manager position relevant to your wider goals?
Only you can answer that. If your wider goals involve more financial security and to advance your career, then it would seem like a relevant fit.
Time-bound: We need to set a timeframe for our goal.
For example: I want to be promoted to Sales Manager at the Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin by January 2022.
Again, this is a good goal, but it’s not very specific or measurable. Let’s use the SMART framework to improve it.
Specific: We need to define the goal in terms of:
A SMART goal example would be: I want to find a retail assistant job at my local store in a national franchise.
Measurable: What constitutes the completion of this goal? How can we measure progress toward the goal?
In this example, you could break down the components of finding a job:
Achievable: Is this an achievable goal for you? Are you able to work? Do you have the appropriate qualifications for the role you’re looking to achieve? Do you have the right resources?
Let’s assume the answer is yes.
Relevant: The goal needs to be aligned with your wider, long-term objectives.
If you intend to have a career as an accountant, a retail role might not be a relevant goal. On the other hand, it might be in line with your short term goal of paying your rent!
Time-bound: We need to set some limits on this goal:
I want to find a retail assistant job at my local store in a national franchise, within three months from today.
By now, you should have a strong understanding of what a SMART goal is, why they are important for both business planning and personal development, and, of course, how to use the framework to become a better goal setter.
So, what are you waiting for?
Write out your SMART goals now and get working on them, and don’t be one of the 43% who give up on them after a month!
For more job search tips, visit the Jobcase Getting Hired Resource Center.