High profits, increased engagement, market share: success means many things to many people. But across the spectrum of success there is a close relationship with achieving goals. Goals provide a benchmark for success, indicating whether the individual or organization accomplished what they set out to do. It is generally accepted that setting goals is important, but how often is it emphasized that goals should be smart? Smart in the sense that they make sense for the firm yes, but also SMART in that they deliver real insights and results. This distinction is often left out when it comes time to set goals. To be SMART, goals must be:

Specific: Goals need to be clearly defined with distinct attributes identified that outline what is expected. Specific goals should generally be able to answer the five W’s (Who, What, Where, When, Why).

Measurable: Without measurement it is difficult to determine what if any progress has been made. The goals you set must be measurable in that there is a quantifiable metric to track success. “Improve efficiency” is noble but vague. “Improve efficiency by decreasing wasted materials by 10%” is noble and measurable.

Achievable: When setting goals it is also important to keep feasibility in mind. Goals should challenge the organization without negatively impacting performance.  Setting lofty goals may seem like a great way to make positive changes in the organization, but overshooting can lead to mistakes as well as being detrimental to moral.

Relevant: This one may seem obvious, but goals that are relevant to the organization’s objectives and purpose are what will propel it forward. Even if goals meet the other criteria, they are not SMART if they do not align with achieving other identified goals the organization has set out.

Time-Bound: The final criteria for SMART goals is that they must be time-bound. Setting a goal that can be achieved at anytime in the future, without a hard end date, is not a goal at all, but rather an aspiration or wish. It does not matter if the time frame is set at 10 months or 10 years, as long as there is a set completion date to determine whether the goal was achieved.

Acknowledging the need to set goals is the first step in achieving success, but knowing how to design those goals to enhance the chance for achievement is paramount.

What are some of your personal or organizational goals? Do they meet the SMART criteria?