Setting SMART Objectives
by GEORGE AMBLER on MARCH 11, 2006
Nothing happens until we plan and good plans have goals and objectives. Setting goals and objectives correctly provides the necessary context and support required to mange their implementation. Before we dive into the discussion on how to go about setting SMART objectives, it’s necessary to understand that there is an important of distinction between goals and objectives.
- Goals relate to our aspirations, purpose and vision. For example, I have a goal of becoming financially independent.
- Objectives are the battle plan, the stepping stones on the path towards the achievement of my goal. They are measureble and specific and can be used to guide actions.
A goal may consist of one or many specific objectives that would need to accomplished to successfully achieve the goal. For example, to become financially independent I would need to do the following 1) get out of debt, 2) improve the level of savings and 3) improve the level of my income.
The most well known method for setting objectives is by doing it the S.M.A.R.T. way, the SMART approach is well understood amongst managers, but is poorly executed. S.M.A.R.T refers to the acronym that describes the key characteristics of meaningful objectives, which are Specific (concrete, detailed, well defined), Measureable (numbers, quantity, comparison), Achievable (feasible, actionable), Realistic (considering resources) and Time-Bound (a defined time frame). Lets look at each of these characteristics in more detail.
Specific means that the objective is concrete, detailed, focused and well defined. That is the objective is straightforward, emphasizes action and the required outcome. Objectives must communicate what you would like to see happen. To help set specific objectives it helps to ask the following questions as guidance:
- WHAT am I going to do? This are best written using strong, action verbs such as conduct, develop, build, plan, execute, etc. This helps your objective to be action-orientated and focuses on what’s most important.
- WHY is this important for me to do?
- WHO is going to do what? Who else need to be involved?
- WHEN do I want this to be completed?
- HOW am I going to do this?
“The successful man is the average man, focused.” – Unknown
- What exactly are we going to do, with or for whom?
- What strategies will be used?
- Is the objective well understood?
- Is the objective described with action verbs?
- Is it clear who is involved?
- Is it clear where this will happen?
- Is it clear what needs to happen?
- Is the outcome clear?
- Will this objective lead to the desired results?
Objectives need to be achievable, if the objective is too far in the future, you’ll find it difficult to keep people motivated over the long term. Objectives must be achievable to keep you motivated. However, keeping a good balance is important, whilst being obtainable, objectives still need to stretch you, but not so far that you become frustrated and lose motivation.
- Can we get it done in the proposed timeframe?
- Do I understand the limitations and constraints?
- Can we do this with the resources we have?
- Has anyone else done this successfully?
- Is this possible?
Objectives that are achievable, may not be realistic. That being said, realistic does not mean easy. Realistic means that you have the resources necesssary to get the job done. The achievement of an objective requires resources, such as, people, money, skills, equipment and knowledge required to support the tasks required to achieve the objective. Most objectives are achievable but, may require a change in your priorities to make them happen.
- Do you have the resources available to achieve this objective?
- Do I need to revisit priorities in my life to make this happen?
- Is it possible to achieve this objective?
If the objective is measurable, it means that the measurement source is identified and we are able to track theresults of our actions, as we progress towards achieving the objective. Measurement is the standard used for comparison. For example, what financial independence means to me, may be totally different to what it means for you. As is so often quoted, if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it! Importantly, measurement help us to know when we have achieved our objective.
- How will I know that the change has occurred?
- Can these measurements be obtained?
Time-bound means setting deadlines for the achievement of the objective. Deadlines create an all important sense of urgency. If you don’t set a deadline, you will reduce the motivation and urgency required to execute tasks. Deadlines create the necessary focus, helps set priority and prompts action.
- When will this objective be accomplished?
- Is there a stated deadline?
“There’s a difference between interest and commitment. When you’re interested in doing something, you do it only when circumstance permit. When you’re committed to something, you accept no excuses, only results.” – Unknown