How to set smart goals

SMART Goals: A Complete Guide To The Popular Goal Setting Framework

Setting goals is one of the cornerstones of building a successful career. Goals give you focus and inspiration. They also give you a direction with which you steer your habits and actions.

More and more organisations are turning to SMART goals to help employees flesh out their professional development plans. In this article you’ll learn what a SMART goal is, and how you can start creating yours. Let’s dive in!

What Are SMART Goals?

“SMART” is actually an acronym. The acronym stands for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Timely

So with that said, it’s clear that SMART goals are different to many other goal setting systems. This is because SMART goals have several criteria that they need to meet in order to be considered a SMART goal. That is, every goal needs to be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely.

When you’re coming up with your SMART goals, it’s a good idea to to jot them down in a table (such as the one below).

Goal Name Specific Outcome Measurable outcome Is this within attainability? How is this relevant to you?
Gain muscle at the gym To put on 5kg of lean muscle I will go from 70kg to 75kg and remain same body fat percentage Yes as I have the budget to buy the right food, and I can go to the gym regularly where I have access to great equipment. Being fit and physically active is an important part of my values and lifestyle.

The thing that makes SMART goals unique is that they create complete visibility and transparency. It makes it easy for someone (such as a manager or executive) to come in and get context around the goal without any further explanation required. They can see the reasoning, why it’s important for you, what will be delivered, and when it’ll be delivered by.

SMART Goal Condition #1: Specific

Your goal needs to be specific and tangible. This is so you actually have a clear idea of how you’ll know when you’ve achieved the goal. For example, instead of saying “I want to be more successful in my job,” which is vague and intangible – you want to say something like, “I want to close 10 new clients in the first half of this financial year.”

SMART Goal Condition #2: Measurable

Simply, your goal needs to be measurable and quantifiable. Like the example I used above, setting the goal of being “more successful,” isn’t something you can measure. What are the parameters of success? How would you judge if you’re any more or less successful than you are now? So with that said, there needs to be some metric involved in your goal. For example:

  • Close 10 more clients
  • Publish 50 new blog posts
  • Reduce the companies cost per acquisition from $50 to $20
  • Increase retail sales by 30%
  • Reduce the time it takes to on-board new staff by 60%

SMART Goal Condition #3: Attainable

The third condition is attainability. If you’re setting your goal within an organisation as part of a personal development plan, then attainability is key. This is because the organisation wants you to set goals that you can achieve within a certain time frame (usually a financial year). Attainability also forces you to hone in on a goal that is actually within your reach, and is both feasible and appropriate for you. For example, given where I’m at in my career, becoming a CEO of a fortune 500 company isn’t attainable as a goal within a reasonable time frame. So your SMART goal needs to be within reach.

SMART Goal Condition #4: Relevant

If you worked in content marketing, then having a goal related to building your financial accounting skills wouldn’t make sense. Whenever you’re setting goals it’s crucial to make sure they’re relevant to you, not just in terms of what you’re doing now, but with your overall career direction. It helps to consider what the next level is for you. What’s the next logical step you need to take in your career path? This will help define the goals that are relevant to you – based on where you’re at right now.

SMART Goal Condition #5: Timely

Just in the same way that your SMART goal needs to be measurable, it also needs to be timely. Again, if you’re creating your smart goals as part of a professional development plan, the the company you work for wants to know when you’re going to deliver on this goal. This means that they’re going to want to see this goal achieved within the financial year. With SMART goals in general, they’re not big lofty 5 or 10 year goals. They’re much more concise than that. A good benchmark is to set 6-12 month goals which are easily tracked and measured.

Benefits Of SMART Goals Vs. Other Types Of Goal Setting

I personally love SMART goals because they create a huge amount of accountability. How many of us write down long term, vague goals that read more like wishlists than actual checklists of things we want to achieve? That’s where SMART goals come in with a massive benefit. They force you to put realistic and measurable conditions around your goals. They force you to get a crystal idea of how you’ll measure the success of the goal, and when you expect to have it achieved by. This gives your mind direction and focus, and allows you to start being creative about how to achieve your goals in the quickest time.

SMART Goals And Your Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s)

There’s usually a relationship between your personal development plan (PDP) and your Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s). Your KPI’s (and how well you hit them) often dictate whether or not you get a bonus (and how big/small it is), as well as if you get a pay rise, or if you get fired. Usually your PDP will be tied to your KPI’s, however you won’t be judged on how well you executed on your PDP. But your development plan will allow you to develop the next level of your KPI’s, and start to shape the role you’d like to grow into. So breaking your PDP into SMART goals allows you to show at the end of the financial year how much progress you made. This then becomes evidence in the case you’re building for a promotion, job transition, or pay rise. Okay, that’s enough acronyms for one article, right?

What’s The Best Way To Create Your SMART Goals?

Putting the time aside to brainstorm and flesh out your SMART goals is absolutely essential. You want to block out a couple of 60 minute blocks where you can find a quiet space to smash this work out. It’s foundational to your career and job success, so you want to ensure it’s given the proper attention. Both to make sure you can execute on it at the highest level, and to ensure the goals actually resonate with you.

Step 1. Go to a quiet space in your home, office, or area

It’s important to draft your smart goals in a place that’s quiet or distraction free. For sessions like this I often book a meeting room in our building for 60 minutes. This give me enough time to get into flow, without people or email stealing my attention.

Step 2. Start brainstorming your SMART goal ideas

Take out your laptop or notepad (I prefer the notepad as your laptop can be a distraction machine). Start getting ideas on paper. What areas of your career do you want to develop? What’s the next level for you, and what do you need to do to get there? What skills do you need to build? What experiences do you need to be exposed to? Let your ambitions run wild.

Step 4. Define your key SMART goals

Once you’ve got a pool of ideas to draw from, you want to pick out the five core goals that stand out to you. These are the top five goals that if achieved would make the biggest impact on your career. Then you want to flesh out each of the SMART goal criteria for each of your goals: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely.

Step 5. Talk to your manager, team leader, or mentor

It’s always great to share your goals with someone you trust, and who can give you some sound advice or feedback. This could be a manager, team leader, executive, or mentor. I found the input I got from my content and social marketing manager to be incredibly insightful – especially since I was defining these goals within a corporate context.

Step 6. Begin putting those goals into action!

Your goals can’t just sit on paper! You need to bring them to life. It’s always a good idea to chunk your bigger goals into smaller goals. This way you can track your progress month to month. I also suggest spending some time thinking about how you’re going to execute on your plan. Most people make the mistake of thinking that writing the goal, is the goal – when really it’s just the beginning. The step that separates the achievers from the non-achievers is that achievers know how to take habitual action and execute on the deliverables.

Can You Use SMART Goals For Other Areas Of Life, Or Just Your Career?

The SMART goal framework is something you could easily apply to your health, finances, relationships, as well as your career. The thing I love about it is that it forces you to be specific, and it forces you to be accountable. And anything that helps you achieve greater freedom and success in all areas of your life, not just your career, is something definitely worth taking the time to implement.

What SMART Goal Are You Going To Implement?

Feel free to leave me a comment below and share your thoughts on SMART goals. What was the biggest takeaway for you from this piece? What goal would be a massive win for you if you achieved it?

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will vaughan your career mastery

Will Vaughan is the Founder & CEO of Your Career Mastery. He’s dedicated to helping young professionals discover and land the job of their dreams using a mix of proven strategies, tips, tools, and mindsets. He currently works as a Content & SEO manager for a 100 million dollar tech company in Melbourne, Australia.

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