Most businesses and organizations set goals for things they want to achieve, but not all goals are created equal. Certain goals are related to results, like “Increase traffic by 30%.” Some goals may focus on activity, such as “Create four new blogs every month.” Others may seem ambiguous, like “Increase brand awareness.”
The common thread among these types of goals is that they represent a desired outcome, but do not offer guidance or a path on how to achieve that outcome.
While it is important to create these types of goals, there are other ways to map out goals that will better drive toward a desired result. One effective way is called a SMART goal.
A SMART goal is a tool to convert vision into action. SMART is an acronym based on five components:
The concept of SMART goals started with an article written in the November 1981 issue of Management Review by George T. Doran. In his article, “A” stood for “Actionable” and “R” stood for “Realistic.” These are interchangeable terms with “Attainable” and “Relevant,” just swapped!
Since a SMART goal is used to connect vision and action, the best way to develop a SMART goal is to establish a high-level vision; break this up into more concrete, results-centric outcomes; and then begin the exercise of creating SMART goals.
The chart below showcases how SMART goals are used most in the structure of goal setting:
A SMART goal should establish a desired outcome that someone within the organization can own, act upon, monitor, and optimize. If leadership uses the vision and outcome levels to look at progress from a bird’s-eye view, then SMART goals are meant to be precise directives to contribute to these higher levels from multiple angles.
Setting SMART goals is an exercise that requires time and thought. MIT even offers a course on how to construct SMART goals, but you don’t need an advanced degree to get started. Download our SMART Goals worksheet and follow along with this article.
In the first example, “Increase traffic by 30%.” is not very specific. We can assume that it can be measured, and we will also assume that it is relevant to the business’s overall goals. But we do not yet know if it is attainable, and it certainly does not have a timeframe associated with it.
So how can a goal be modified to include each component of a SMART goal? Let’s take a look at all five parts of a SMART goal.
Specificity ties the action to the vision by indicating how to accomplish the goal. Organizations must strike a balance between being detailed and flexible. A goal must give direction without being too rigid.
A good way to determine how specific a goal should be is to further define its focus. If we want to “Increase traffic by 30%,” we can try to be more specific by first looking at what the focus of the goal is. In this example, the focus is on traffic. But “traffic” has a lot of components and meanings. Let’s assume we’re referring to web traffic for the organization’s website. There are many ways people can visit the website. They can come from organic search, referral websites, emails, social media, paid ads, scanning a QR code, clicking through on an app… With all these considerations, multiple SMART goals could come from specifying what “traffic” is the focus of the goal.
A SMART-er goal would be, “Increase organic search traffic by 10%.” This specifies enough focus to better direct the tactics involved in reaching the goal.
Measuring a goal seems like a basic concept, but this should cover more than just the metrics or key performance indicators (KPIs) of a dashboard. A measurable goal should have two parts: a measurable number so that you know when you hit your target and a measurable number for how often you need to do a specific task. This should also measure the amount of effort being put into the action. This way, you have a measurable for what success looks like, and a measurable for what needs to be done to achieve success.
Let’s say that your business wants to increase your social media audience by 20%. To make this specific, we could focus on one social media channel, like Instagram. But we also must include the measures: “Increase Instagram audience by 20%, from 1,000 followers to 1,350 followers by publishing at least 20 posts per month.” Now the goal includes both a measure for success and a measure for action.
Details like the platform being used, what that platform is able to measure, and how your organization can tie results back to your efforts in that platform all play an equal role in your goal’s success. Knowing where to look or leveraging tools to help with measurement is essential. There are many tools available to help with measuring your goals. For example, every content management system (CMS) has its own way of measuring, so be sure to learn everything you can about your CMS before setting digital goals. This is also true when it comes to other goals around productivity or sales. If you want to set a goal for the number of new leads each month, you have to have that tracking in place. It’s important to make sure your goals are easily measurable using available technology and data.
Whether a goal is attainable depends on an organization’s capacity, resources, budgets, and people. A SMART goal should set realistic expectations for those involved in achieving the goal.
Attainability will impact the Measurable aspects of a SMART goal. Knowing capacity and resource management is crucial in making a goal realistic. Another consideration is knowing the industry averages or your competition’s averages of the focus KPIs/metrics.
For example, after looking at open rates of all emails you sent in the past year, you determine that your average open rate is 40%. So, you create a goal to increase that from 40% to 50%. Then you research and find out that the average industry open rate is 10%. You are already four times better than the industry average! The question is whether a 50% open rate is attainable. Having 40% already is a great accomplishment, but that could be skewed by other factors, like database age or lack of prospects. Increasing the number of recipients will likely drive that open rate down. Do not set yourself up for failure, and be sure to look at each goal in the context of the overall strategy.
The relevance should spawn from the high-level vision and outcomes established earlier in your goal-setting exercise. Having a relevant goal can save time, money, and resources.
Sometimes, organizations may have created a lot of goals mapped to an older vision. This exercise often leads to dropping goals that are no longer relevant to the current vision.
Take a look at this goal: “Double new sales leads for Product XYZ from 40 to 80 through two new lead generation campaigns per quarter.” In order to determine if this goal is relevant, the organization would need to map this goal to the overall vision or goal established earlier. Are new sales leads for the Product XYZ a priority? Are there already existing campaigns that could be repurposed or re-promoted?
If the organization’s vision has shifted and they’ve decided that instead of getting new sales leads for Product XYZ, they want to encourage existing customers to add Product XYZ to their purchases, that particular goal is no longer relevant and needs to be updated.
As an additional example, if an organization’s overall vision and goals in 2019 were to boost physical trade show attendance and gain 20 new leads per month from in-person trade shows, this particular vision and goal would no longer be relevant in 2021. Instead, the goal might be to gain 20 new leads per month by engaging in social selling practices on LinkedIn. This would map to a vision of generating new leads digitally.
A SMART goal should have a timeframe associated with it. This can be any sort of due date that makes sense for your company. It can be determined by natural production cycles, calendar periods (e.g., months, quarters), patterns in your industry, or capacity management within the organization. This component of a SMART goal will have a great impact on the attainability of the goal.
An example of a goal with a time-bound component would be, “Double monthly sales calls from 10 to 20 per salesperson within six months.” An example of a goal without a time-bound component would be, “Double monthly sales calls from 10 to 20 per salesperson.” Without the six-month timeframe, it’s impossible to know the deadline for achieving the goal.
Need help crafting your first SMART goal? Check out LMG’s Smart Goals Worksheet!