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SMART objectives: turn goals SMARTER for greater benefit

Published 6th April 2017 by Melissa Farrington
Objective setting and KPIs

What are SMART goals?

SMART is an acronym for a set of criteria that goals should adhere to if they are to work effectively on an individual level and across teams and organisations.

  • Specific: the goal’s meaning is clear and the focus needed to meet it is clear
  • Measurable: it will be simple to see if the goal has been achieved
  • Achievable: the goal is suitable for the timeframe available
  • Relevant: the goal is meaningful in the context of the company’s objectives
  • Time-bound: it’s clear when the goal must be achieved by

These are the most common criteria used for each letter. Sometimes they are substituted for other characteristics deemed more applicable for the situation, such as:

  • Strategic
  • Motivating
  • Action-oriented, Agreed
  • Results-based, Resourced
  • Trackable

If SMART works well, why do we need to add E and R?

Firstly, work is becoming more collaborative. Technology is democratising markets so that people’s creativity and collaborative efforts increasingly dictate which organisations succeed.

People do not work in isolation, which means that people’s goals do not exist in isolation. Relatable makes SMART goals more motivating, and encourages higher performance, because you know how your own goals relate to others. It also encourages you to look for synergies and create more value than simply meeting your goals directly.

Secondly, purpose and meaning are becoming more important constructs in how people relate to work. Because the relationship people have with work drives their motivation, incorporating ideas of a higher purpose to goals helps people see why their work is important in helping the organisation (and wider entities like society). Surveys suggest this is especially important for millennials, but we think everyone wants to see their work make a difference. It’s just human. That’s why explainable should be added to SMART goals.

Here’s more detail on both of them:

Explainable

This refers to how the goals fit into the short-term and long-term strategies of the organisation. Faith that their work fits into a wider strategy is not enough to motivate staff to tackle goals. People are more sensitive to knowing they’re making a difference: explainable goals are those that make sense in the overall organisational narrative. This not only helps create and nurture alignment, but increases transparency, which drives employee engagement.

Explainable is particularly important when a new goal contradicts a previous goal, for example due to a change in strategy due to market conditions. By explaining the external factors at play and how the organisation is looking to address them long-term, employees are less likely to be cynical and frustrated at the shift in direction.

Relatable

This is about synergistic value: how does this one goal align with other people’s goals? As collaboration becomes important in creating superior outcomes, mirroring the collaborative process in goal-setting is a useful technique in driving collaboration and co-creation within the organisation.

It’s also a good way to build capability in different areas of the business, breaking down silos. There’s often tacit knowledge held in different areas of the business that can help people achieve their goals quicker and more optimally: making goals relatable helps to unlock this potential value.

Here’s an example of a SMARTER goal

Lucy owns a media agency. One of the teams is in charge of search engine marketing but they don’t have social media or paid search skills. She wants the Head of Search, Angela, to grow the team in order to offer new services.

They agree the following goal:

I will hire three people in the next three months. Two will have the job title Social Media Executive and one will have the job title PPC Specialist (specific). I will do all the administration work and get the jobs out in the market in one month, with all interviews concluded and job offers made within two months. All three people will be in post in three months and in six months I will judge their suitability and hopefully pass their probation (measurable). The market is buoyant for job seekers with these skills and the organisation exists in a media hub in a city (attainable). Having these new team members in place will help our team diversify the products we sell and therefore attract new clients and upsell existing ones (relevant). After six months, I expect to have three suitable candidates that have passed probation who are running at 80% efficiency (time-bound).

They also add the E and R parts of the goal at the end:

I understand the media agency requires outside investment to grow to the next level and they need to offer a broader range of services: investments in the industry are generally in agencies that offer the broadest service because diversified revenue streams are so important to survive in this industry. By recruiting these three people I will be helping develop the business for important growth and investment (explainable). As part of my goal I will do my own research into investments in this industry to ensure my decisions around this recruitment drive suit the organisation’s investment goals.

As part of the drive to get investment, other team heads (Paul, Head of Development and Karen, Head of Design) are also tasked with growing their teams with new hires to bolster the skillset and enable new business to be won. As part of my goal I will liaise with Paul and Karen to see if we can find efficient ways of collaborating on the hiring process to improve quality-of-hire, time-to-hire and recruiting costs, and ensure we get a diverse team that will really add to the culture of the business. By going through the process together, we will also build links between our functions internally which will help us find greater value in the future through collaboration (relatable).