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Time to Rethink SMART Targets?



Most of the fizz and froth has subsided but it’s still just about a New Year. A new beginning, fresh start and the chance to make plans, set goals and targets. Although New Year’s resolutions can get a bad press and are frequently abandoned before the Christmas decorations have come down that’s no reason not to set business and personal targets for the year. When a goal, target or resolution fails it’s usually because there is insufficient detail and specificity. For example, a resolution to “get fit’ is unlikely to be kept because it is too open and non-specific. Instead if your target was to run a 10K next year with a detailed step by step training plan, milestones and date for the race then that has a better chance of success.

The vague target is the reason that whenever you see any mention of setting goals or targets almost inevitably you’ll be encouraged to set SMART targets.

When I first came across the idea of SMART targets they were pushed as being the only way to set personal, departmental and organisational priorities. When you look at it for the first time it makes perfect sense.

S - Specific

M - Measurable

A - Achievable

R - relevant/realistic

T - Timed

I remember thinking at the time that there was a fair amount of redundancy. Specific, fair enough, but shouldn’t measurable and timed be encompassed when being specific? Achievable and realistic, wouldn’t they mean the same thing? In many versions the R represents relevant, again redundant in that if you are considering making your targets specific surely you would make them relevant? Beyond this why set an achievable or realistic target, does this not limit you? Is it a way of aiming high but them moderating to a lower target?

It’s all well and good to criticise but you need something in its place. So here goes;

S - Stretching/Scary

To counteract the achievable in the old version how about instead considering a stretching target. Something that will stretch your skills and abilities, something difficult to achieve but certainly worthwhile. How about scary, so ambitious that it scares you to think of. What worries people about setting an overly ambitious target is failure! However, that’s an attitude problem, if you see not reaching a big target as failure but achieving a moderate one as success then you may need to rethink your mindset.

This quote from Michelangelo puts it in a nutshell:

“The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.”

M - Motivational

When you look at these targets constantly for the next year do they inspire and motivate you to take action or depress you and send you looking for other things to do until you no longer look at them at all? If this is a target for the year it needs to be a constant companion. They need to be in your thoughts each day. Think of the wording, is it set out in positive, motivational language? Does it contain enough details and reasoning so you can understand why you should be working on it for the next 6 to 12 months? Is the target the first thing you think about when you wake and the last thing on your mind at night? The words should get you out of bed in the morning.

A - Actionable.

Targets are great but ultimately pointless without action. My target of running a marathon can be stretching, written in motivational positive terms but will count to nothing without putting on trainers and taking action.

This is the commitment to the process not just the target, which is a whole other post, but crucial to any goals.

What are the actions needed to achieve the target? Can I break them down into actionable steps? What should I be doing today to reach the target? How about this week? month?

R – Reviewable/Reflective.

This was the hardest letter, I thought of risky and revolutionary but they had been covered by other letters. I settled on reviewable or reflective.

Setting goals, done properly, takes time, thought and reflection. Once in place they can tend to be forgotten, not looked at again and so it’s important to build in review or reflection times. Points during the year when you review your goals and understand how far you have come, or not!

Have you reached them already and do I need to set new ones? Have your priorities changed or the business model? This is not an opportunity to reign in or set less challenging goals, on the contrary they should still be ambitious, in fact more ambitious if you have achieved more than you expect. It is building in the understanding that life can change but that does not mean we should abandon our goals just be ready to review reflect and refine the targets.

T - Transformational.

This I think is my favourite. In the end, why bother setting goals if they are not going to transform your life or business. A goal should not be maintaining the status quo or a be a graded increase in performance. We need to show how it will transform you or your business! This relates to stretching and motivational points but really consider the impact reaching this target will have on you and/or the business.

What will things look like if we get it right. This is all about setting the context of the goals. If it’s a business goal and is related to sales and turnover what will that extra money mean to the business? What could you do? What will it mean to you and your family? When you succeed, how will you feel different? That’s the sort of goal worth working towards.

So that’s just my take on it. As I mentioned at the beginning we can be disparaging of the New Year goals but it is no better or worse than any other time of the year to set them and is a natural break point that lends itself to reviewing the year that’s past and to consider the future. How do you want to feel at the beginning of next year? What transformation do you want to see in yourself or your business?

Agree? Disagree? I’d be interested in your opinions. Time for a new set of SMART targets?

I'b be interested in finding out about your business targets for the year. If you'd like to discuss them why not take advantage of a FREE Business Develop Remote Meeting.

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