You can find all kinds of goals in all kinds of organizations. Some goals are short-term and specific (starting next month, we will increase production by two units per employee per hour),and others are long-term and nebulous (within the next five years, we will become a learning organization). Some goals are easily understood by employees (line employees will have no more than 20 rejects per month),but others can be difficult to fathom and subject to much interpretation (all employees need to show entrepreneurial spirit). Still others can be accomplished relatively easily (reception staff will always answer the phone by the third ring),but others are virtually impossible to attain (all employees will master the five languages that our customers speak before the end of the fiscal year).
How do you know what kind of goals to set? The whole point of setting goals, after all, is to achieve them. It does you no good to go to the trouble of calling meetings, hacking through the needs of your organization, and burning up precious time, only to end up with goals that aren’t acted on or completed. Unfortunately, this scenario describes what far too many managers do with their time.
The best goals are smart goals — well, actually SMART goals is more like it. SMART is a handy acronym for the five characteristics of well-designed goals.
- Specific: Goals must be clear and unambiguous; vagaries and platitudes have no place in goal setting. When goals are specific, they tell employees exactly what is expected, when, and how much. Because the goals are specific, you can easily measure your employees’ progress toward their completion.
- Measurable:What good is a goal that you can’t measure? If your goals are not measurable, you never know whether your employees are making progress toward their successful completion. Not only that, but it’s tough for your employees to stay motivated to complete their goals when they have no milestones to indicate their progress.
- Attainable: Goals must be realistic and attainable by average employees. The best goals require employees to stretch a bit to achieve them, but they aren’t extreme. That is, the goals are neither out of reach nor below standard performance. Goals that are set too high or too low become meaningless, and employees naturally come to ignore them.
- Relevant: Goals must be an important tool in the grand scheme of reaching your company’s vision and mission. You may have heard that 80 percent of worker productivity comes from only 20 percent of their activities. You can guess where the other 80 percent of work activity ends up! This relationship comes from Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto’s 80/20 rule. This rule, which states that 80 percent of the wealth of most countries is held by only 20 of the population, has been applied to many other fields since its discovery. Relevant goals address the 20 percent of worker activities that has such a great impact on performance and brings your organization closer to its vision. (Source: Blanchard, Schewe, Nelson, & Hiam, Exploring the World of Business.)
- Time-bound: Goals must have starting points, ending points, and fixed durations. Commitment to deadlines helps employees to focus their efforts on completion of the goal on or before the due date. Goals without deadlines or schedules for completion tend to be overtaken by the day-to-day crises that invariably arise in an organization.
SMART goals make for smart organizations. In our experience, many supervisors and managers neglect to work with their employees to set goals together. And in the ones that do, goals are often unclear, ambiguous, unrealistic, unrelated to the organization’s vision, unmeasurable, and demotivating. By developing SMART goals with your employees, you can avoid these traps while ensuring the progress of your organization and its employees.