I’ve mentioned goals and goal setting in my last two posts and I feel that I’d be remissed if I didn’t take some time to visit the concept of SMART goals. I’ve worked with a variety of people from all walks of life and I’ve find that roughly 50% are familiar with the SMART goals concept. However, 75% of the individuals who are familiar with it are uncertain what the SMART acronym stands for. I also find it interesting (and a little amusing) how many variations of the SMART acronym exist! I’ve heard some pretty common variations; I’ve also heard some that were so outlandish they were certainly made up on the spot or at the Hogwarts.

Candidly, I think memorizing an acronym is less important than understanding the components of an effective goal. If you’re familiar with SMART goals you’ve probably seen varying acronyms too. Your SMART components might even be “smarter” than someone else’s! I think that’s great but I wouldn’t get caught up in the acronym. If you’re setting effective goals it doesn’t really matter what you call it. The goal setting process is critical but we don’t want to get so bogged down with naming conventions and “perfect goals” that we delay the goal achieving process. 

Here is the SMART acronym I use:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Action Oriented
  • Realistic
  • Timely

Each component of a SMART goal is designed to help the goal setter improve clarity, accountability, and the likelihood of achievement. Here is an example of a broad/generic goal versus a SMART goal.

  • Generic
    • Sell more coffee.
    • Improve point of sale merchandising and up-selling to achieve $20,000 in coffee sales within the month of September.

Let’s break it down to evaluate each of the components:

  • Specific
    •  Achieve $20,000 in coffee sales.
  • Measurable
    • $20,000 within the month of September.
  • Action Oriented
    • Improve point of sale merchandising and up-selling.
  • Realistic
    • This is not explicit in the goal itself. This would be a decision for the goal setter and anyone they might be submitting the goal to. If current coffee sales were $8,000 this would probably be unrealistic or require different action steps. If current coffee sales are $18,000, this would be very realistic. 
  • Timely
    • Within the month of September.

If you are the setting a goal, SMART goals really help you clarify what you want to accomplish. If you are a leader, SMART goals help you improve accountability for your team. Vague goals enable an easier justification for failure. SMART goals provide considerably less wiggle room.

While we are on the topic of SMART goals, I should also note there is a growing rate of adoption for SAM goals. SAM goals are the little brother to SMART goals. Essentially SAM goals are just as “smart” with fewer steps. Since the “R” in SMART is seldom written into the goal it seems like an easy step to remove. Additionally, the “M” in SMART can be adapted to encompass time too. In my opinion, SAM can be just as effective as SMART. Take a look at the following goal, is it SAM or SMART:

  • Utilize lower cost office supply alternatives and improved oversight of the the supply ordering process to reduce operating costs by an average of $2,000/Month over the next 3 months.

I’d say it’s certainly SMART. I also think Mr. SAM would approve. If its a well written goal, does it really matter? Personally, I use and teach SMART. I find most people are naturally inclined to skip steps, combine elements and distill things down. I start with “whole” concepts and then monitor behavior and results to determine if we’re on track for achievement. If someone on my team wants to use “S” goals because they cram specific measurables, times and behaviors into the “S,” I think that’s great. If they want to use “SUPER-SMART” goals, that’s great too. It’s great IF the goal is specific, realistic and clear enough for them to achieve it AND for me to hold them accountable. The goal is what matters, not the acronym we used to set or achieve it.   

Application steps:

  • Review your goals. If you haven’t written down personal or professional goals in a while I’d encourage you to take a look at my last two posts. [1] [2] .
  • Are your goals SMART enough?
  • Take time to re-write your goals to be more specific, clear and realistic. 
  • Review your goals frequently (daily/weekly) depending on the timeliness of the goal in question. Tweak your goals to be smarter if needed.
  • Review your current progress toward your goals. What do you need to change to achieve them?

Thanks for reading!