SETTING GOALS LIKE A PRO: THE SMART WAY TO STAY ON TRACK

Valuable examples, common mistakes, and practical tips for effective planning.
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Achieving your dreams requires more than just ambition; you need a clear plan. That's where SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) methodology comes in. It ensures your goals are well-defined and attainable.

We'll explore what a smart action plan is, along with numerous examples and pro-tips to help you plan effectively.

SMART Methodology Criteria

Smart Action Plan should be:

S — Specific 

A specific goal is well-defined and easily comprehensible. It offers clear details about what you intend to achieve, leaving no room for ambiguity. Specific goals answer the fundamental questions of who, what, where, when, and why. To create a specific goal, provide comprehensive information about the desired outcome.

Consider dividing your goal into longer-term strategic objectives and shorter-term tactical goals. As Vincent Van Gogh wisely put it, "Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together."

Before setting a specific SMART goal, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What specific result do you want to achieve with this goal?

  • How will this particular goal contribute to the desired outcome?

  • Who is responsible for achieving this goal?

  • Why is this goal significant to you or the organization?

M — Measurable 

Measurable goals provide tangible benchmarks for success, allowing you to plan your path effectively. 

When setting goals, it's best to use Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to assess performance or results. KPIs help determine the impact of your efforts, which is of utmost importance. However, exercise caution with setting targets that are several steps removed from your immediate activities. 

For example, it would not be practical for a Social Media Manager to set a goal like, "My LinkedIn posts should lead to an increase in total company revenue or overall customer satisfaction."

Before setting a measurable SMART goal, consider the following questions:

  • Does the goal fall within my area of responsibility?
  • Can I control all the factors that affect the final result, or are there multiple stakeholders involved?
  • How can I objectively determine if the goal has been achieved?
  • Can progress be quantified or measured objectively?

Sometimes, certain goals may not be entirely measurable using specific numbers or KPIs. In such cases, you may need to evaluate quality and effectiveness through other means.

A — Achievable or Attainable 

Your goal should be ambitious yet realistic. Avoid setting targets that are too easy or unattainable.

While it's essential to challenge yourself, overly unrealistic targets can be demotivating. People who realize they can never achieve their goals often lose interest and focus. Studies show that about one-third of individuals fail to attain their New Year's Resolutions due to unrealistic expectations. Striking the right balance is key. 

Base your SMART goal on your capabilities, experience, knowledge, and the realities of the labor market and your sector.

For more realistic goals, you can use internal or external benchmarks. Reflect on your past attempts to achieve similar goals and learn from them. This will help you set a pragmatic goal for the future.

Companies can also refer to industry standards. For instance, there's an eNPS metric in MarHR, with benchmarks for each professional area. For the IT sector, a score of about 53 is considered good on average, while 30–45 is excellent, and above 45 is exemplary.

Before setting an achievable SMART goal, consider the following questions:

  • Can this goal be realistically achieved within a reasonable timeframe?
  • What are the potential constraints or challenges?
  • Is the timeframe for achieving the goal realistic?
  • Have similar goals been successfully achieved in the past?

R — Relevant 

Avoid setting goals for the sake of having goals. A SMART goal should align with your needs or the company's objectives. Ensure that your goal doesn't conflict with other objectives.

Before setting a relevant SMART goal, consider the following questions:

  • How does this goal align with the company's mission, vision, and strategy?
  • What benefits will you gain after achieving this goal?
  • Are there any potential negative consequences associated with pursuing this goal?
  • Are you, your team members, and stakeholders fully committed and invested in this goal?

T — Time-bound 

A time-bound goal with a specific deadline is essential for progress tracking and accountability. Establish a clear and realistic timeframe for achieving the target. The deadline should be ambitious enough to inspire action but also allow enough time for goal attainment.

The optimal time frame for achieving SMART goals is usually between 3 to 12 months. Longer time frames can lead to reduced focus and relevance.

For longer-term goals, consider breaking them down into intermediate stages and tasks. Additionally, consider dependencies in your goals. For example, if other people are involved and setting their own goals, it may impact the timeline of your goal.

Before setting a time-bound SMART goal, consider the following questions:

  • How long will it take to reach the goal?
  • Is the timeframe realistic, considering the available resources and constraints?
  • Does the deadline create a sense of urgency?
  • How should the goal be broken down into stages?
  • How will progress be tracked throughout the timeframe?
  • Are there any potential issues that could affect the deadline?

Studies by Gail Matthews and Mark Murphy have shown a correlation between setting written targets and achieving them, leading to a 20–40% increase in success rates. You can formulate business/personal SMART goals like this:

Benefits of the SMART Method

  1. It helps you focus on accomplishing specific tasks, as it makes big goals achievable. SMART analysis helps you break down a specific goal into actionable tasks.
  2. It allows you to evaluate progress toward the goal effectively. Clear tasks and KPIs with action steps for SMART goals make tracking results convenient.
  3. It increases the chances of success by simplifying goal formulation and reducing doubts when setting a goal. 

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