With a new year upon us, you may be thinking about goal setting. Sometimes, it seems that no-one enjoys setting or talking about their objectives. They can be seen as a boring tick box exercise to document what you are already going to be doing. They can be seen as a distraction from the job. But, this approach brings many risks. In fact, SMART objectives might be just what you are looking for.

What are SMART objectives?

SMART objectives are a way of setting and defining your objectives. By using the SMART mentality, you should be able to define your objectives in a way that includes all of the key elements to make your goals very effective.

SMART is an acronym and stands for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable*
  • Realistic*
  • Time-bound

(* Achievable and Realistic both have other words which are sometimes used instead. However, these are the most commonly used terms. I’ll explore these alternatives below).

Why do you need SMART objectives?

SMART objectives will help you to define your goals. In turn, you will stand a better chance of meeting the expectations that the business has for you. You may also be interested in reading more about setting clear expectations as a project manager.

Without thinking about the SMART acronym in your objectives, you will find that your objectives can be:

  • Woolly, fluffy and vague
  • Easily forgotten or blown off course
  • Never completed and stretched into infinity
  • Overwhelming and unrealistic

And if you’re not setting objectives at all, you could find that your job lacks purpose, has nothing to drive you forward and can be very unpredictable.

Explaining SMART objectives letter by letter

Specific

Your objectives must be crystal clear and unambiguous. Add detail. Make sure that it is clear what you are aiming to achieve. You may in a description want to add what you are not including. This is partially a “scope” based question.

Measurable

You should be able to measure progress against your objectives. This means that at the end of the objective, you can use some form of data to validate that you have completed the goal.

To make a goal measurable, you must have a metric and a way of easily reading that metric. For example: sales, volume or number of items dispatched / completed, percent completed, response times

Achievable

Also known as Attainable. It should be possible to complete your objectives. There is no point aiming for “world peace” as it is just not something that is going to happen!

For a goal to be achievable, it should be something that is possible to be completed.

Realistic

Very similar to Achievable. By being Realistic, your goals are going to fit in with your current aims and objectives. This means that you need to consider your other priorities and capabilities.

In fact, if you’re not sure on the differences between “Achievable” or “Realistic”, you may enjoy this article. Essentially, Greg Peters sets out the difference as “Realistic” takes into account your other priorities and goals. For example, it is Achievable to train to run a marathon. But it is not realistic to train to run a marathon in 1 month whilst also working a full time job and spending time with your family / children as well as learning to speak a foreign language. You’d be overwhelmed. Your goal is not realistic (even though it’s still achievable to train to run a marathon as a stand alone objective).

However, the “R” is also known as Relevant. In this instance, your goals should be connected to the wider business strategy. They should be relevant for what the business wants to achieve.

Time-bound

Your objective should have a defined end point. And you must declare this. Your time frame should be relatively short term – no more than a year. Sure, there may be occasions where you have a long term goal to aim for. But put milestones in to aim for in the shorter term. Otherwise, I’m going to guess that you’ll have a big surprised look on your face when you find that you didn’t meet your super long objective. But that will be in 5 years time ;).

One more essential consideration for your SMART goals

Perhaps it is obvious. But I want to be very sure there are no mixed wires. Your SMART objectives must be written down. These should then be agreed and signed off with your manager.

Writing them down means that you have a record of exactly what you wanted to achieve. It helps to stop scope creep from happening with more objectives and goals slipping in half way through the year. Also, the act of writing your goals down means that it becomes more engrained in your brain. You’ll be able to remember it more and your sub-conscious will help you to deliver it.

Sharing your goals with your manager means that the business agrees with what you will be working on. Represented by your manager, your business is agreeing to what they are asking you, as an employee, to do.

The bottom line – set SMART objectives to help you towards your intended goal

SMART objectives are widely recognised but, unfortunately, often get forgotten. The acronym isn’t perfect and there are other considerations (but more on that in the next article). However, I’m a firm believer that if you get your SMART objectives agreed, then you’re already on the path to getting them completed.

Have you set your goals this year? If not, then you should definitely share this page with your manager, your peers and your direct reports. Set yourself some SMART objectives and let me know how you get on.

project management expert Oliver BanksAbout the Author

Oliver Banks is an expert retail project and programme manager. Originally, he managed projects in the technology industry before shifting to deliver retail improvement and transformation. Now, he is an independent consultant, passionate about helping retailers to deliver projects to improve stores, distribution and head office operations.

project management expert Oliver Banks

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