Don't make DUMB goals

Anytime I facilitate a goal setting retreat or give a presentation on the topic, I discuss SMART goals. Why is it that almost everyone has heard of the acronym but unfortunately most businesses goals are not SMART?  Well, it’s easier said than done.

Here’s my version of SMART:

Specific: Goals like “improve sales” or “reduce employee turnover” don’t tell us by how much.  From a Psychology standpoint, for goals to do the job of motivating us, we need to know when we’re almost there and when we’ve reached the finish line.

Measureable: Sometimes businesses get themselves wrapped up in being able to measure something perfectly, with all variables controlled, and don’t end up measuring anything at all. Others commit to metrics that are ridiculously strenuous and time consuming to collect. Any group who I have ever facilitated, who has selected a quick and easy measure that is close but maybe not perfect, has been happy with their measurement selection. Metrics are supposed to help more than hurt.

Achievable: Goals should stretch us a bit. When they are unreasonable though, we don’t even try. I find that people often check to make sure that each goal is achievable. Unfortunately, they fail to look at the goals together and consider the resources required to make all of the goals happen. Are they all achievable together?

Results-Oriented: This is where my version is more rigorous than others. I say that R is for Results orientation, instead of activity. Goals pack more punch when they are focused on what is to be accomplished, not just our efforts.

Here are some examples.

A) I had a goal to present at one or more professional association conference this year. Since I am not in control of whether or not the conference boards would choose me, I was prepared to submit multiple proposals for multiple conferences. I am proud to say that by the end of the year, I will have presented at three professional association conferences: 1) Society for Consulting Psychology in Atlanta in February, 2) Organization Development Network in San Jose in October, and 3) Oregon Mediation Association in Portland in November.

B) A common goal I see for employees is to take a class on a particular topic where improvement is needed. For example, “Melissa will attend a Customer Service training by the end of the 2nd quarter”.  I say that a better goal would be for “Melissa’s customer satisfaction survey results to be improved by 25%.” While attending the class should help, it may not be sufficient. You as her leader or supporting HR/OD practitioner should be prepared for it to require more support. Melissa also needs to understand that actual improvement is what is required, not just checking the box for attending a class and possibly playing Angrybirds on her smart phone the whole time.

Time bound: This is the simplist of the tips. It is some time reference by which the goal is to be accomplished. It might be by a date on the calendar or certain number of days or weeks after something else has occurred.