Have you ever noticed that sometimes you come across a task that just doesn’t seem like it was well thought out? Or that you run into a goal that gets moved to the bottom of the list over and over again?
SMART criteria have been widely used since the 1980’s. At Indatum we use SMART criteria to help clients structure goals, and project tasks. Wikipedia claims that SMART Criteria are commonly associated with Peter Drucker’s Management by Objectives concept. For us, we simply feel that establishing SMART Criteria for Goals and Tasks is, well, smart. Here’s why.
When you are setting out to establish your SMART Criteria, the first step is to be specific about your tasks. The degree of specificity is up to you. For example, your company may want to create a customer contact form to allow customers to reach out from their website. Setting a goal that says “Create customer contact form” may be a specific enough description, or you may have to take the description one step further. For example, “Create a customer contact form to allow for customers to (inquire, report issues, complain, or some other task}” may give more specific parameters.
Being more specific about tasks is most often a better approach, but one thing to consider when establishing SMART criteria is the time invested in establishing your goals. You can choose to spend more time or less time defining the goal, depending on what you feel will be the most efficient way to accomplish a task.
When defining a task, it’s easy to know when you are done, but how will you know if you have succeeded? For example, what if our goal is “to implement instant messaging to increase communication among staff”? Completion of that task means that instant messaging is up, and everyone is using it. When defining your goals, or task, you should know the difference between what it means to have completed the task, and what it means to have “succeeded”.
When setting this criterion, it is critical to measure for success, not completeness. The difference between whether the task is complete and successful that can be demonstrated with this example. We could have completed the implementation of instant messaging, but did we succeed in increasing communication among staff? When you know the outcome, you expect as a result of increasing communication among staff you can measure success whether your goal setting is successful. Your success statement may be: “We need to increase communication among staff in order to reduce the number of mistakes we make delivering to clients. This will, in turn, reduce costs and improve our brand”. The task is complete when you have implemented IM and there is increased communication among staff, while success is measured by what this implementation accomplishes. The measure of success is not about the “increase” in communications, rather, it is about how the increase in communications will “decrease” mistakes, “reduce” costs, and “improve brand”. Our tip: measure for success.
When a company tells us they would like to double their year-over-year revenue, the first thing we ask them is how would you like to do this? Is there a new product or service? Did they expand into a new line of business?
The achievable criterion often has us asking “How”. To answer this, we at Indatum often adopt a rolling wave model for longer or larger items such as goals. The rolling wave model tells us that planning a number of steps ahead is much like standing in a body of water with rolling waves; we encounter one at a time. Looking outward, we can see the first wave clearer than the second, and the second clearer than the third, and so on, and so on.
When you are determining if a task or goal is achievable, you should have a sense of the steps that will be involved. The earlier steps should be very clear, while steps towards the end may be less fuzzy or less detailed. The point is to have a sense of all the steps, and although later steps may be fuzzy, the first two or three should be clear.
Relevance is one of the most important if not the most important of the SMART criteria. For us it is a priority to address the most difficult-to-answer question “Why?”. When a company is asking us to make positive changes to their organization, to a new website, or to a new workflow, the first question we investigate is “Why”.
Answering the “Why” behind a great idea or inspiration will often lead to recognizing the relevance of the goal, and to making sure the idea will fit with an organization. Answering “why” will also help ensure that the task or goal is always more than what we can capture on paper.
Simply asking “why” will initiate difficult but healthy thought processes. For example, consider the relevance statement: “improving communications will lead to less errors” or “close more sales”. We evaluate this goal by asking “why” – “Why will improving communications lead to less errors?” and by discussing the answer in some detail.
When you are establishing goals or tasks, relevance is the most important criterion to establish. When you are determining the next great challenge to tackle or the next great goal to achieve for your business, be sure that the goal is relevant by asking the difficult question – “Why?”. “Why is this important?” “Why will it work?” “Why now?” and “Why not?”
Every goal should be assigned a due date. This way you have something to work towards. Within most projects, the completion of some tasks is contingent on the completion of others. This means that you should evaluate the impact your target dates have on other tasks within the project.
Assigning target dates to goals will make it less like that goals will be pushed back. This will also help to prioritize talks more effectively.
The hidden value in SMART
Using SMART criteria for goals and tasks is a great way to be organized about everything you set out to do. But the investment in SMART criteria also has the hidden benefit of communication.
The most important part about SMART Criteria, is not the end result of having what we call a SMART-LY defined goal or task. The most important aspect of the SMART thought process, is the conversation. SMART criteria generate smart conversations. They are a fantastic tool for generating clarity and developing alignment within teams or stakeholders. One fantastic thing to do is to have your SMART Goals peer-reviewed, or even to create them with a team or along with your clients. This SMART-structured communication will go a long way when it comes to enabling you to both define and achieve goals, and to strengthen teams!
If you need more information or have any questions contact us today. Let us help you “go-do” what you do best, while we take care of the rest.
Indatum is technical consulting firm dedicated to the success of small and medium sized businesses.
Call us today to learn how to adopt SMART criteria in your organization today.