Setting SMART goals is a disciplined training method that helps you gain new skills and competencies to advance your career. The practice helps you create plans for achieving your objectives, measuring progress and rewarding your efforts. Achieving your SMART goals can improve your employability and earning potential. In this article, we talk about SMART goals and their benefits with examples.
What are SMART goals?
SMART goals are objectives you work toward with clear, measureable actions and within a specific time frame. They help you focus your energy and increase your chances of achieving your goals.
The concept of SMART goal setting was first used in a 1981 paper published by George T. Doran of Washington Water Power Company. Initially, SMART goals guided management's actions, but they are now widely used by professionals and individuals to improve their skills and careers.
What is the meaning of SMART?
SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-based. These elements work together to help you create clear and trackable goals that are carefully planned ahead of time. Here is a breakdown of each aspect of this goal-setting process:
When setting goals, it is crucial to be specific so that you can focus your efforts on achieving them. It is like writing a mission statement, which should answer these questions:
- Who**:** Think about who can help you accomplish these goals. This is critical, especially if you are working on a team project and need to learn a new skill set to advance your career.
- What: Define what you want to achieve. This will help to outline what you need to do to get results.
- When: Drawing up a timeline for achieving your SMART goals will help you focus. A self-paced course may take you three to six months, depending on your dedication.
- Where: This question is only relevant if your goal is related to a specific location or event.
- How: This question can help you identify the prerequisites needed to succeed in achieving your objectives. For example, you might need to undertake rigorous training and practice, use self-help videos and books or take a professional course to meet your SMART targets.
- Why: Finally, you need to determine the reason for pursuing the goal. It may be for career progression, increased pay or more leadership roles. Whatever your reasons may be, being specific about your goals pushes you to reach them.
At the end of this exercise, you should have a clear picture of what you want, how you will achieve it and why it is important for your career.
You need to have specific criteria for measuring your progress before you start working toward a goal. This allows you to determine whether you are making progress or need to review your action plan.
For example, you could measure progress by recording the number of modules you complete in a course every month, or it could be the number of contributions you made in the last five meetings as you work to improve your public speaking skills.
Questions to ask when measuring your goals include:
- How much or how many activities do I need to do to move closer to my goal?
- What shows progress toward my goals?
- How do I know if I am succeeding?
Having measureable goals helps you set milestones that track your progress. When you don't meet your daily, weekly or monthly targets, it is easier to assess your actions and make corrections. Measuring your progress also allows you to celebrate small wins and stay motivated.
SMART goals must be achievable. Before you work on a goal, ask yourself if you have the qualifications, capabilities, resources and time to accomplish the objective within a specific time frame. If this proves difficult, look around for people who have successfully completed such a goal, and ask them how they did it.
This exercise does two things. Firstly, it helps to identify the obstacles you are likely to encounter in order to succeed. Secondly, it keeps you focused and motivated long enough to get the desired results.
When setting goals, consider their relevance to your values and long-term career objectives. Before you work on a goal, identify how it will improve your workplace contributions, employability, earning potential and professional standing. A goal that does not align with your broader career objectives may not be worth the effort.
To succeed in your goal, you need to have a realistic time frame to achieve it. Setting deadlines helps you get focused and encourages you to prioritise your time and energy. When you set time limits, it is useful to break the learning curve into small modules with specific deliverables.
For example, if you set out to close 20 sales deals in five months, you could mark out a goal of making a minimum of 50 cold calls every day. Setting up such time-based goals can also create urgency and motivate you to work harder to achieve your objectives.
Template for SMART goals
Creating SMART goals involves questioning yourself, friends, peers or team members about your strategy, resources, delivery time frames and the relevance of your objectives. Here is a simple template that you can use to start developing your SMART goals:
- Goal: [Write the goal you want to achieve.]
- Specific: [Ask the relevant 'w' questions. What to do you want to achieve? Why do you want to achieve it? When do you want to see results? How will you achieve it? Who can train or guide you to help you achieve your goal?]
- Measureable: [What metrics will you use to measure progress? What makes up success regarding this objective (degree, certificate, a new position, a raise or something else)?]
- Achievable: [Can you achieve this goal with your current skills, experience and qualifications? Do you have the resources to succeed? If not, how do you plan to get the things you need to accomplish the objective? Is the goal commensurate with the effort required to achieve it?]
- Relevant: [Does this goal align with your broader objectives? How will it contribute to your career or personal life? What is your motivation for setting this goal?]
- Time-based: [By what time period will you achieve this goal? Is the timeline realistic?]
- Review: [Study your responses to the above questions and use the insights to create a new goal statement.]
Examples of SMART goals
Here are two examples of SMART goals for different scenarios:
Example 1: Improving a skill
- Goal: '**I want to improve my public speaking skills.'
- *Specific: 'I got very low marks at my last performance review for delivering unimpressive presentations in three consecutive departmental meetings. To improve my performance, I need to build my confidence and grab every available public speaking opportunity. To make good presentations, I also need to learn about using multimedia presentation techniques effectively. Before my next review, due in three months, I should be confident enough to make compelling presentations before senior and junior colleagues alike.'*
- *Measureable: 'By the end of the next three months, I should have no trouble speaking at meetings and company events. I should also be able to use different multimedia platforms to make my presentations, train staff and deliver projects.'*
- *Achievable: 'I lack confidence, but in the next three months, I should be able to improve my public speaking and presentation skills before any audience.* I will dedicate three hours each week to an online public speaking course and attend two live speaking events every month. I am working with a friend to improve my electronic presentation skills.'
- *Relevant: 'As a team leader, my work involves reporting to senior managers about the progress of ongoing projects. This requires weekly and monthly meetings. Becoming confident and efficient in using computer software to create interactive slides will aid my career and help me impress supervisors.'*
- *Time-based: 'I will improve my public speaking skills by my next performance review in three months.'*
Example 2: Earning a certification
- Goal: 'I will earn a certification in special needs education to increase my employability as a teacher.'
- *Specific: 'There is a shortage of qualified teachers who can handle special needs children. I plan to become a certified special needs educator to communicate better with such children and also to improve my earning potential.'*
- *Measureable: 'I will fill out the online application, start the course, finish five modules every month and complete the course in five months. The new certification will make me eligible for the next promotion at work.'*
- *Achievable: 'I already have the degree and the mandatory five years of teaching experience to apply for this certification. I only need to dedicate my weekends to complete the certification study before the next promotion round.'*
- *Relevant: 'This certification is important for my career advancement. It will allow me to apply for more roles in special needs education.'*
- *Time-based: 'In the next six months, I should be a certified special needs teacher, helping children with disabilities to learn and socialise effectively.'*