You are most likely to succeed when your goals meet these SMART criteria. From what workshop participants have reported back about the congruency of goal and actual outcome, it seems people tend to think “SMART” when they pit their goals against what they can do today, then tomorrow, then by the next deadline.
Say my goal is to “increase my brand visibility.”
Let’s look at this in SMART terms:
- The goal is vague in substance; therefore, it is hardly specific.
- There are no metrics involved; therefore, the goal is not measurable.
- With no tangibles provided or bars set, the goal is not really attainable.
- The goal does have some obvious intuitive appeal, so let’s say it is relevant.
- But it doesn’t specify a time by which it should be attained—it doesn’t even specify when to start. Therefore, the goal is not timely.
Now say my goal is to “write a blog post on best networking practices, and post LinkedIn and Twitter updates about it, by tomorrow.”
Again, let’s take a look, in SMART terms:
- With topic (substance) and media (form) clearly identified, this goal is specific.
- The posts are either there or not there, so that makes the goal measurable.
- Assuming I know the subject matter and I am comfortable navigating the media, this goal is attainable.
- It looks like this goal is relevant toward my overarching ambition of increased brand visibility.
- I am planning to do this by a certain deadline, which is close enough to suggest when to get to work, so this goal is timely.
The attainable and timely parts are in a particular functional relationship. Note the goal was not to “write a blog post on best networking practices by the end of next year”; that would seem attainable, but hardly timely: assuming a project of this caliber takes a day or two to complete, this time frame would be too noncommittal—at this point, it’s almost two years before I would even have to begin.
On the other hand, the goal was not to “write a book on best networking practices by tomorrow,” either. I hope we don’t have to belabor the cliché of “biting off more than you can chew” here. (In this context, note some people understand the R in SMART to stand for “realistic” rather than “relevant.”)
So what if the goal were to “write a book on best networking practices by the end of next year”?
Hmm…sounds somewhat realistic (with attainable and timely within apparent proportion of each other), but writing a book is a very complex project. You would have a hard time knowing how far toward attaining your goal you are at a specific point in your endeavor, say after you have: done research on a topic; interviewed a subject-matter expert; written a draft of the first chapter; and so on.
So measurability would be an issue, for one. Even so, let’s be optimistic and say you finish the book five months before (!) the end of next year—then where do you go from there? “Freeze” it? Try to go above and beyond? Or cut yourself some slack for having “over-achieved”?
It is better to break down complex, long-range goals into smaller goals, one at a time. That’s exactly how it’s done in the “Contract with Yourself” workshop module mentioned above; it makes each goal more attainable. In the case of writing a book, sample goals could be: “Do research on the ‘sandwich-message’ concept tomorrow”; “Make appointments to interview subject-matter experts next week.”
That way, you can calibrate and set the next goal accordingly. A more overseeable time span also helps make a goal specific and, therefore, determine whether it is relevant.
True SMART goals are timely in that you can see the contingency between time and action more clearly. Not only does that help establish good habits, it leads to measurable outcomes occurring with greater frequency, thereby providing more frequent reinforcement—another goal attained, building on the one attained before. Now how is that for “smart”!