How to write SMART goals
Reading time: about 8 min
At some point, we’ve all set goals for ourselves. Maybe it was writing down a few New Year’s resolutions. Or setting long term career goals. A goal can even be as simple as, “Today, I’ll get out of the house.” Here’s the point: We set goals constantly, often without realizing it or writing them down.
But how often do we achieve our goals? The truth is, most of us set goals but only a handful of us actually follow through.
When it comes to business goals, the same is true: They are often left unrealized. But it doesn’t have to be that way! This post breaks down the SMART goals method—a simple tool that will help your team set and achieve your business goals.
What are SMART goals?
If you work in project management, there’s a good chance you’ve heard the phrase “SMART goals” in passing. The SMART method for goal setting—first introduced in the early 1980s—has grown increasingly popular since its inception, especially in business settings.
So what are SMART goals? SMART goals and objectives are goals that align with the five criteria outlined in the SMART methodology:
The idea behind these key points is simple: If you consider each of these five elements as you write your goals, your goals will be more structured, achievable, and beneficial.
There’s nothing more frustrating than working towards some vague aspiration. Sure, the end goal might be worthwhile, but the process for achieving that goal will be equally vague. If you don’t have a clear sense of where you want to end up, how will you know how to get there?
The SMART goals method can help your team avoid this pitfall. Instead of working towards vague end goals, your team and business will have a set of clear, achievable goals. And, more importantly, a system for measuring your progress towards those goals.
Writing SMART goals
The first step in writing a SMART goal is the easiest: Identify a goal you have for your team or business and write it down. (Don’t get too attached to this exact goal—as you break it down using the SMART method, you’ll likely develop and change aspects of your original goal.)
With your goal identified, you’re ready to use the SMART method! To do this, consider your goal in light of each element of the SMART acronym. This can be a bit confusing, but don’t worry, we break down each element for you.
To ensure your goal is specific, you and your team should ask five questions:
- What do we want to accomplish?
- Why do we need to accomplish this?
- Who is involved?
- When do we want to achieve this?
- Where will we do this work?
Take your time to thoughtfully address these questions. There’s a reason this is the first step: Hammering out the specifics of a goal or objective lays the groundwork for the rest of the process. A vague goal leads to vague plans; a specific goal leads to specific plans.
That being said, don’t get too hung up on details. As you answer these questions, remember that this isn’t an action plan—that will come later.
The whole point of SMART goals is to set and accomplish achievable goals. To do that, you’ll need a method—and metric—for measuring progress and success. Quantifying progress can be tricky, but if you made your goal as specific as possible, you should be able to identify one or more ways to measure success.
You may want to include a timeline alongside your metrics for success. When will you check in on your progress? This could be weekly, monthly, or quarterly depending on the goal.
As you set goals, it’s good to push your team. Stretch goals can motivate you to improve efficiency and productivity—and your team will often be better off for it. But even stretch goals should be attainable.
Before settling on a goal, consider your team’s time and resources. It may seem obvious, but it needs to be said: Any goal you and your team set should be something you can actually accomplish. People often set goals that are too ambitious—rather than stretching and pushing us to be better, these goals simply discourage us.
And remember: Nothing is set in stone. As you begin working towards a goal, don’t be afraid to adjust your target. You may encounter unforeseen difficulties and road-blocks. As you assess these challenges, you may need to adjust your goal to make it attainable.
At this point your goal should be specific, measurable, and attainable. Now it’s time for some honest assessment: Is it relevant?
A relevant goal should align not just with your team’s goals, but also the goals of your company as a whole. To determine if your goal is relevant ask yourself a few questions:
- Why is this goal important to my team?
- Why is this goal important to the company?
- How will this goal help move the company towards its goals?
If you find yourself struggling to answer these questions—especially those relating to the company as a whole—you may want to sideline that goal for the time being. Just because it’s not relevant now doesn’t mean it won’t be relevant later.
When it comes to accomplishing goals, one factor will make or break you: accountability. And one of the easiest—and most dreaded—ways of creating accountability is setting deadlines.
The question should not be. “when do we want to have this accomplished?” You should be asking, “when will we have this accomplished?”
The timeline of a SMART goal goes hand-in-hand with the metrics you decided on to measure your success. (Remember the measurable stage of the SMART goals process? If you did a shoddy job at that stage, it’s going to come back to bite you now!) In order to accomplish your end goal, you’ll need checkpoints along the way. Consider breaking the larger timeline of your goal into sub-goals, each with hard deadlines and specific metrics for success.
Example of a SMART goal
At this point, you should be feeling like a bit of a SMART goals expert. You have taken in a lot of information after all. Now let’s solidify your knowledge with an example.
Say you’re on a marketing team at a small company. One of the best ways to increase brand awareness, generate leads, and drive sales is through social media. So your team comes up with this goal: We will increase social media engagement this quarter.
Pretty vague, right? Let’s apply the SMART goals method.
- Who? The marketing team as whole, but the social media specialist will take point.
- What? We increase engagement on our YouTube channel.
- When? The timeline was built into the initial statement—by the end of the quarter.
- Where? The work will largely take place on the company YouTube channel, but we will also use Facebook and the marketing blog to drive viewers to our videos.
- Why? We create top-quality content for YouTube, but are struggling to reach an audience. By putting our videos in front of more viewers, we will generate leads and sales.
Because the goal is to increase engagement with the company YouTube channel, there’s a metric for measurement built in: views. So our goal is to accumulate 15,000 views on the videos across our channel.
Assuming the team is already generating content for YouTube, this goal should be attainable—it’s just a matter of getting the videos in front of an audience.
The company is still relatively small, so it is important to increase brand awareness and reach a larger audience. In this sense, an increasing YouTube viewer base will help contribute directly to our company’s goals.
The timeline is built into the original statement: We will have this accomplished by the end of the quarter.
Now that we’ve applied the SMART goals method, let’s rewrite our original goal.
Original goal: We will increase social media engagement this quarter.
SMART goal: In order to increase brand awareness and generate leads, we will accumulate 15,000 views across our company YouTube channel this quarter. To make this happen, the marketing team will continue to create high-quality videos and promote those videos via Facebook and the marketing blog.
Turn goals into action
You’ve written a goal, applied the SMART methodology—now what? It’s time to get the ball rolling and start working towards accomplishing that goal. Easier said than done, right?
Let’s make it a little easier for you. With Lucidspark’s customizable Gantt chart template, you and your team can track your progress day by day, ensuring you stay on track to achieve your SMART goals!
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