The pizza you ordered had ground beef instead of sausage.

That steak you wanted medium rare came out well-done.

You noticed halfway down the road that the drive-through didn’t include half your order in the bag.

We’ve all ordered something and received something we didn’t expect. While frustrating at a restaurant, the consequences can be more disastrous at your company.

Start with a goal in mind

When you’re ordering food, your goal is to solve your hunger. Pizza, steal, or takeout — they’ll all solve the goal.

While SMART goals are a great tool by themselves, you’ll unlock their true power when used in conjunction with another tool, like GROW meetings. Start by using a GROW meeting to decide on the overarching goal. Once you’ve figured that out, using the SMART goals formula can transform abstract goals into something more concrete.

Pot of Food

Would you pay for this meal? Not without seeing what it is first. Stop paying for work on projects without knowing what the outcome should be.

Get specific

If your pizza came with beef instead of sausage, you’ll only know it was a mistake because you knew what it was supposed to have on it.

Mistakes happen. That’s unavoidable. However, you can mitigate them in your company by making sure projects are as specific as possible.

Being specific is all about getting everyone on the same page.

Bad: Improve our website so people can buy our products faster.

What does “improve” mean? If they add a “buy now” button at the top, is that an improvement?

How fast is “faster”? If it takes Mark ten seconds to click a link compared to Sandra’s three seconds to click the same link, how do you factor that?

Using vague terms like “improve” or “faster” will end up causing more questions than answers. That’s like ordering a pizza with meat on it, and hoping you get sausage. Instead, get specific.

Specific goals are simple and clear-cut.

Good: Users on our website should be able to buy one of our products within three clicks from the homepage.

This is clear and straight-forward. Either you can buy one of your products within three clicks of the website’s homepage, or you can’t. There’s not a lot of room for interpretation.

Pro Tips

When trying to get specific with your goal, start by answering the “Who?”, “What?”, “Where?” and “Why?”

Make it measurable

Did your pizza come correctly? Did your steak come out prepared in the way you wanted? Did you get everything you ordered from the fast food restaurant?

Either it did, or it didn’t.

Eliminate any gray areas — your company can lose a lot of time and money in the gray areas of project expectations.

Was this goal achieved? The answer should be “Yes” or “No.”

Bad: Hit your sales numbers by the end of the month.

On its surface, this sounds like a clear goal. Digging in a little deeper, there’s still room for clarification.

Does everyone know what the sales numbers are? I’d hope so, but you can go a long way by eliminating any questions about that. Even using the term “end of the month” can be vague. Did you mean the last business day in the month, or the calendar end of month? Or, does it not matter?

Measurable goals are quantitative.

Good: Turn in your final paperwork on $500,000 in gross sales by the end of business on Friday, July 31st.

With some simple tweaking, you can eliminate confusion and help everyone get on the same page. That’s one less thing to cause problems down the line.

Pro Tips

When making your goal measurable, ask yourself, “How will I know when this is done?” Try making a checklist of things that need to be fulfilled to mark it complete.

Is it achievable?

Have you ever tried calling up your local pizza joint and asking for a steak, medium-rare?

Well, neither have I, but we can both guess what the outcome would be.

As a leader, how many times are you setting up your people to fail by asking them to do something unrealistic? Challenging your tribe to improve is a good thing. Asking them to do the impossible only breeds anger and frustration.

Achievable goals are realistic.

Bad: Hire someone new and integrate into our company culture by this Friday.

While having a great onboarding plan for your new hires is important, the first step is finding a potential candidate. Start there first. Then, integrating them into the culture can be a different goal.

“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.”

“Don’t put the cart before the horse.”

There’s a lot of horse-related sayings that can help you remember to make your SMART goals achievable. Basing a goal on unrealistic expectations is a recipe for failure.

Good: Find and hire a great candidate for our company.

You don’t need to fit everything into a single SMART goal. Narrowing your scope is a great way to be more realistic about what’s achievable. Instead of asking your tribe to move mountains, break those mountains down into smaller projects that can be accomplished.

Pro Tips

Pretend your goal is a recipe for your favorite meal. Do you have all the ingredients you need ready to go? If not, it might not be realistic to get it done yet.

Focused direction

Keep it relevant

I’ll admit that I’ve never called up a pizzeria to ask if they could deliver a medium-rare steak. Still, I’d be very surprised if they agreed to do it. That’s not what they do. It’s not relevant to the products they offer.

At your company, every task and every project should move your company forward. Some, like research, might not have an immediate impact on the bottom line like closing a sales deal will. But, they should all be relevant to your company’s goals.

The other side of the coin is to make sure your tribe’s goals are relevant to their skills. You need to keep both in mind when you’re wanting to keep it relevant.

Your company is a puzzle. Is this SMART goal the right fit?

Bad: John will lead the marketing campaign for the new subscription feature he built.

Does this seem worthwhile? Is this the best use of John’s time?

It may be tempting to let your people wear multiple hats in the name of productivity, that’s not always the best option. In this example, John’s time is best focused on his skillset in development.

What about this SMART goal will push your company forward?

Good: John will lead share how subscriptions work with marketing, so they can build a campaign for it.

If you’re wanting a marketing campaign around a new website feature, sharing information across teams can be a great way to take advantage of everyone’s skillsets.

Pro Tips

When trying to decide if your goal is relevant, take a step back. Look at your company’s overarching goals and ask yourself how this fits in with those goals. Why does it need to be done now and who needs to get it done?

whiteboard chart

Make it time-based

Estimating how long something will take can be extremely difficult to do. For that reason, this is one of the most common parts of a SMART goal I’ve seen disregarded.

This is one of the most important elements of the SMART goal. It is the deadline that you’ll need to make sure everything else we’ve talked about so far is done. Without a deadline, projects run the risk of becoming a perpetual work-in-progress.

As a leader, this is when you’ll follow-up to see if the goal is completed.

Bad: Sam will finish the website and then push it live.

Anyone who’s built a website will tell you they’re always a work-in-progress. There’s always new bugs, tweaks or updates to do that warrant changes. That doesn’t even factor in scope changes that can delay it’s “finished” status.

Get specific with the time so there’s no question about the expectations.

Be realistic with time. Get buy-in from everyone involved.

Good: Sam will fix the three bugs we’ve identified and push it live by the end of the day.

Instead of waiting for a vague time that may never come, by the end of the day you’ll be able to tell if Sam has pushed the website live.

One of the key elements of this is to get buy-in from whomever is doing the work. You’ve hired smart people. If Sam doesn’t think he can get those three bugs fixed by the end of the day, maybe the time needs to be changed. Or, maybe you need to have a discussion around prioritizing what can be done by the end of the day. When you get buy-in from everyone involved, it’s a lot more likely to get done instead of you assigning arbitrary times to it.

Pro Tips

Be realistic about the timing. This might require adjusting the SMART goal overall. If Sam isn’t comfortable pushing the website live by the end of the day, maybe the goal shifts to be getting a first draft of the site ready for review by the end of the day.


Putting it all together

The journey from the initial, abstract goal takes you through simple statements for each element of the SMART goal. At the end, it’s often helpful to put it together into a final statement.

For example, “I will send Lumbergh the new cover sheet for my TPS report at 9:00 tomorrow morning.”

Abstract goal: Start using the new cover sheets for the TPS report.

SMART goal statement: By 10:00 AM, I will submit a TPS with the new cover sheet to Lumbergh.

It’s specific: Lumbergh will expect a TPS report with a new cover sheet.

It’s measurable: It’s a “Yes” or “No” question — did Lumbergh get the TPS report or not?

It’s achievable: I got the memo … so I know about the new cover sheet for the TPS reports.

It’s relevant: TPS reports need to be done before Tom can deal with the goddamn customers.

It’s time-based: If 10:00 AM rolls around and Lumbergh doesn’t have the TPS report, he can follow-up to check on its status.

Now that you understand the concept of SMART goals, it’s time to start taking them for a spin! I’d love to hear how you’re getting stuff done with SMART goals.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here