Make SMART Goals SMARTer

By Scot Herrick | Job Performance

Jul 30

Using the SMART method of creating goals makes sense even if your company doesn’t explicitly use it for their goals. Plenty has been written about SMART goals, most of it simply explaining what the SMART acronym means.

I’ve also added a good amount to the meaning for readers of this site by looking at how each part – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time Bound – can be better tailored for those of us working in cubes.

But combine that with a few other career management concepts and SMART goals can be made SMARTer.

When I look at all of the stuff on the Internet and all of the management theory about employee engagement, I keep coming back to Patrick Lencioni’s book The Three Signs of a Miserable Job (with the review here on the site). Partly, I come back to it because it tells us what management can do to improve employee engagement.

Mostly I come back to the book because it also gives Cubicle Warriors a good idea of how a job, management relationship, and company culture should be structured so that you can feel good about your work.

It also tells us how to make SMART goals smarter.

Quick review of The Three Signs of a Miserable Job

There are three principles:

Anonymity is simple:

“People cannot be fulfilled in their work if they are not known…people who see themselves as invisible, generic, or anonymous cannot love their jobs, no matter what they are doing.”

Irrelevance is not knowing how their work matters.

“Without seeing a connection between the work and the satisfaction of another person or group of people, an employee simply will not find lasting fulfillment.”

And immeasurement is not knowing how to measure progress by the employees themselves.

Employees “cannot be fulfilled in their work if their success depends on the opinions or whims of another person, no matter how benevolent that person may be. Without a tangible means for assessing success or failure, motivation eventually deteriorates as people see themselves as unable to control their own fate.”

Making SMART goals smarter

When you combine the requirements of SMART goals with these three principles, you make SMART goals smarter. Here’s how:

The goal needs to be important enough that  you are visible to management and other team members.

If anonymity is the killer of love of work, the goal needs to be more than SMART. It needs to engage you with others in order to make your work visible.

Not every goal, of course, will have this component. Good career management, however, tells us that your accomplishments need to be visible. By having a goal that makes us more visible, our accomplishments also become better known. Being known as a person who gets things done in a business environment is gold-plated professional branding.

Good career management also has networking as a critical component to your career success. Goals that have us working with other managers, teams or coworkers also gives us the ability to know others in the company and increasing our ability to help others. Helping others is the critical component of networking and a well defined goal will help us do just that.

The goal needs relevance to people, not just relevant work.

The second principle was relevance. Relevance also shows up in the “R” part of SMART. But the classic relevance in creating a SMART goal is that it is relevant to the business or company.

Yet, when we look at engaging in our work, the key component is relevance to “the satisfaction of another person or group of people,” it is clear that “relevance” isn’t just about the company.

Too many goals are tied to business or company relevance and fail to take the next necessary step of satisfying an identified group of people. When the goals are all financial (reduce expenses by 5% by July 30th), there is no commitment to people. And loss of engagement.

From a career management perspective, it is much better to not only talk about making the business goal, but also the relevance to a group of people will give you the story behind the numbers. The story behind the numbers is what helps you sell your work to other potential employers in and out of a company.

The progress toward the goal needs easy, timely measuring by the employee

When looking at good measurements for goals, you will find most measurements coming from reporting. Typically, the reports run once a quarter, or, if you are fortunate, once a month. Additionally, most reports are run through a management system and often measure only the goal for the department, not the individual.

The way to make SMART goals smarter here is to get the measurement level to the employee doing the work. The immediacy of the work at this level gives the employee a way to see progress on their own. The measurement can be daily (best) or weekly, but should always show the overall progress toward the goal.

Measuring goals this way also helps your career – it speaks directly to specific facts on how your work impacted the goal. Having this information in moving to your next position is priceless.

Goals need to be engaging, not just SMART

Is all of this easy? No, because most managers are not at the level where they can even provide SMART goals.

But, you can help the cause by knowing how to make goals SMART – and questioning their validity if they are not.

Helping your career, however, means taking the goals to the next level. You won’t get this on every goal, of course. I had to simply salute and say “yes” to some goals that clearly were not even SMART, much less engaging.

Even asking, however, tells people that you are looking hard at your work and how your work is being measured. That puts managers on notice that you are serious and want to be objective about your work. And make them more objective about your work too.