I don’t remember when I was exposed to the mnemonic acronym SMART as a tool for writing good goals, but it’s the start of a new year so I can assure you it’s still living its best life in corporate America.
I’ve most often seen SMART defined as:
I also don’t like this definition at all, and a few years ago I came across a better set of words that I’ve been sharing with folks ever since:
- Specific: What is the goal? What does a good job look like? Ideally an objective scorecard.
This one is the same but it’s important because specificity is what makes goals distinct from things like yearly themes. I also like the idea of themes, but companies tend to demand a little more objective accountability.
- Motivating: Will working on the goal add or drain energy?
This is such an important add because you ought to think real hard if you’re setting a goal for yourself you don’t actually care about achieving. It’s a tragic miss that there’s nothing in the original about how good goals are motivating.
- Attainable: Is the goal realistic and reasonable? A stretch is okay, but not if it’s demotivating. Is the goal within your control?
This is basically synonymous with the original “achievable”, but I like the extra question about whether the goal is within your control.
- Relevant: Is the goal aligned, and will accomplishing it impact results? People want to do extrinsically meaningful work and make a difference.
This replaces realistic, which to me means the same thing as attainable or achievable. Relevance is another huge miss in the original, since who cares about a goal unless it’s actually worth doing?
- Trackable: How/when do you measure progress (not the standard you measure against). For example, a “specific” goal might be 90% customer satisfaction. The “tracking” part is to measure it with customer survey in Q1 of next year.
This one replaces timely, whose intent is captured by relevant and attainable. It’s the verification to the requirement in a specific goal.
When I want to be more pithy I remember these as:
- S: What is the goal?
- M: Do I care?
- A: Is it possible?
- R: Does it matter?
- T: How and when will I prove I’ve done it?