Every year, I set annual goals. Whether they are personal (like my annual goal to read 200 books) or professional, goals are key to keeping me on target throughout the year. More importantly, when I reflect back on my year, I often find that my greatest successes came as a result of the clear goal-setting I put forth at the beginning of the year.
Like many things in life, there is a good way to do it, and a better way. The better way to set goals, I’ve found, is by following the framework most famously laid out by Paul J. Meyer in Attitude Is Everything, and then expanded upon by many thereafter. As per Meyer, a goal is only SMART when it successfully adheres to a simple acronym: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, and Timely.
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Let’s look at this framework in the context of an example common to many small businesses: hiring. Say you want to set a goal in your business in 2017 to hire a new office manager. Here’s how you can go about applying the SMART goal framework to ensure that you’re on track to make it a reality in the year ahead:
Specific: A specific goal needs as much specificity surrounding it as possible. You say you want to hire an office manager in the year ahead, but there are many questions that go along with such a hire, and you’ll need to narrow down with as much clarity as you can exactly what you are looking for. What qualifications does this person need to have? What will this person’s responsibilities be? How will this person best fit into your team at large? What will hiring this person allow the rest of your team to better accomplish? Answering as many of these as you can will help you to know your goal intimately, and be much better prepared to reach it with ease.
Measurable: It is always important to ensure that you can measure your progress as you look towards achieving your goal. In the case of something like hiring a key staff member, a good way to do this is to break down the task into small parts so that you can measure where you stand in the process. If you plan to use a temp service to help you place a probationary office manager, say, then your first step in the process of hiring an office manager would be to determine which temp service to use. When you’ve done this successfully, then and only then would you go ahead and tackle the best next step. Ultimately, breaking down a larger goal into discrete steps allows you to measure the goal and your likelihood of success in reaching it.
Actionable: Actionable goals allow you to make easy determinations about what is next in the process. In the case of hiring an office manager, you’ve already taken the step to break down the goal into smaller parts to ensure that’s it’s measurable. Now, look at those parts to ensure that each and every one is actionable as well. If the first step is determining which temp service to use to find a temporary office manager, what would the next step be? Creating a job description, perhaps. Understanding what action you can take to get to the next measurable step is key.
Relevant: This is one of the most important steps in the process, and perhaps my only gripe with Paul Meyer is that it doesn’t come sooner in the the SMART goal framework. Critically, you need to determine if this goal is actually relevant to your business and life right now. It can be easy to put the cart before the horse in terms of coming up with a great goal without first thinking about if this really is the right goal for right now. Is an office manager truly a critical hire for your small business? If you’re looking for one already, here’s hoping the answer is yes.
Timely: SMART goals are timely, and timely goals are also relevant. This means that the question, “Is an office manager truly a critical hire for your small business?”, should really be, “Is an office manager truly a critical hire for your small business at this time?” At this stage in your business, is this the best next hire you can make in 2017? Making sure that goals fit with where you and your business want to be in the larger context of your aimed trajectory is essential.
Ultimately, the SMART goal framework helps individuals and businesses alike to set goals that work — year in and year out. That said, any framework can have its limitations. In the case of setting SMART goals, the first and most important step should always be stepping back and thinking hard about what your business needs in the year ahead. Then and only then should you go about setting specific, measurable, actionable, relevant and timely business goals. Do this, and you’ll be more likely than ever to win at work 2017.