SMART Goals — Cubicle Warrior Definitions

By Scot Herrick | Job Performance

Jun 22

When it comes to SMART Goal definitions, the research shows some pretty standard stuff. And, frankly, simplistic. We are told in the workplace to create and implement setting SMART Goals, but when we look at the definitions, we come up wanting.

I’ve created quite a body of work here on Cube Rules relating to SMART Goals ranging from management’s inability to create SMART Goals or how to make SMART Goals SMARTer. It’s about time I finally provided some SMART Goal definitions that make sense for the Cubicle Warrior, because too often SMART Goals fail high performers.

SMART Goals: Specific

A standard definition is this:

Specific in the context of developing objectives means that an observable action, behavior or achievement is described which is also linked to a rate, number, percentage or frequency.

Other definitions include answering the 6 “W” questions: Who, what, when, where, which (resources), and why (benefits of achieving the goal).

Neither approach embraces what is needed for business and especially what is needed for corporate workers. One is too simplistic while the other is complex.

Instead, the Cubicle Warrior Specific definition is:

A business objective for you that defines a measurable, controllable outcome with clearly stated assumptions of resources needed for achievement.

We need our goals to support work in a business. The specifics need to focus on a measurable outcome and an outcome that you can control. And without the assumptions clearly stated about the goal, we will face our performance review with an unwilling management team willing to reassess the goal based on changing business conditions.

SMART Goals: Measurable

The standard Measurable definition is:

A system, method or procedure has to exist which allows the tracking and recording of the behavior or action upon which the objective is focused.

The big problem with this definition for employees is that the corporate measurement systems rarely measure your work that contributes to goal achievement. Less rarely, measurement systems often fail to take into consideration a good baseline number that has consistent definitions across time to measure the goal.

The Cubicle Warrior Measurable definition is:

The measurements used to show the individual’s progress and completion of a goal.

The deal with goals is that it isn’t “all” or “nothing.” There is progress. Unless an employee can easily measure the individual’s success in achieving a goal — including team goals, the employee will lose motivation to try and reach the goal. In addition the employee is defenseless at performance review time for the goal attainment without the ability to track progress.

SMART Goals: Attainable

Here, a standard definition asks:

With a reasonable amount of effort and application can the objective be achieved?

It’s a good question. The trap is what looks achievable now may not be achievable two months from now because your business world has changed. Changed priorities, changed budgets, changed projects, and changing customers. Too often, the answer is “no” but the goals stay the same for employees.

The Cubicle Warrior Attainable definition is:

Goals are attainable over the time needed to achieve the goal if the effort needed is agreed to by the manager and employee.

Attainable is negotiation between the manager and the receiver of the goal. If your manager doesn’t think you can attain the goal, it is not attainable. If you don’t think the goal is attainable, you won’t. There needs to be an agreement of the effort to reach the goal by both parties.

Note that the definition says “over the time needed to achieve the goal.” If you are not getting the assumed resources needed in the “Specific” section of the goal or your project needs credit that is now in crisis, the probability of your goal being attainable is very small. Those changing business conditions require re-negotiation of what is attainable from the goal.

SMART Goals: Relevant

Here is a standard definition of Relevant:

Goals must be an important tool in the grand scheme of reaching your company’s vision and mission.

This type of definition starts tying your work to grand corporate goals that have little to do with your work. Like what you do will increase shareholder’s return on investment by 10% while you work in a support call center. It won’t happen through your work, yet employees are saddled with “cascading” goals from on high that forces the relevancy. Nope.

The Cubicle Warrior Relevant definition:

A goal is relevant when the goal is important to the organization and when the individual has direct impact on the goal through their work.

When your only impact on “reducing expenses by 5%” is to not take training, not travel, and not use office supplies, for example, it isn’t a relevant goal for you because your training, travel and office supplies is not the core of what you do on the job. Unless you can impact the goal through your everyday work effort and the goal is important to the organization, it’s not relevant.

SMART Goals: Time-bound

A standard definition of Time-bound is:

Goals must have starting points, ending points, and fixed durations.

In other words, you will succeed, no matter what. Period.

The truth of the matter is that time frames change in business all the time. Try telling your Executive VP that you can’t do her work because you have a deadline on one of your SMART goals that needs completing. Or consistently turn away your manager from doing work and using your SMART Goal deadlines as the reason. It won’t happen.

The Cubicle Warrior Time-bound definition is:

Goals have starting points, milestones, ending points and negotiated durations.

Many goals can be completed within their allotted time frames with few problems. Other goals have changing conditions on them all the time. And while the end point of the goal may not change, the time frame may.

Start dates can move, significant progress points representing milestones may slide and the final completion dates may change.

That’s where the negotiations come in. If you can’t negotiate with your manager over due dates because of changing business conditions, you can’t win. Negotiations, of course, are two-way wins. Both have to agree to the change. If there is no agreement and the deadlines stay, then other work needs to go away to accomplish the goal.

SMART Goals focus on results

Too often, we focus on writing our SMART Goals simply on writing the goal, rather than understanding goals lead to results. Individual results combined with corporate wins mean everyone moves forward in their careers and business. By using these Cubicle Warrior definitions of SMART Goals and follow-through with our progress, we can successfully accomplish our goals for ourselves and the business.