Goals are commendable, but only work to align a team’s efforts when they meet a certain set of criteria. The reality is, we far too often tend to set goals that feel inspiring and powerful, but fail to consider the details that will make such goals work for you.
The S.M.A.R.T. goals framework isn’t new, but I want to take this chance to outline it in a simple way that will help us all set better goals for ourselves and our customers. It‘s incredibly powerful for achieving big things, both in our personal lives and in our professional ventures.
The closer you get to mastering best practices in goal-setting, the more gas mileage you’re getting on every initiative you set out to accomplish.
What are S.M.A.R.T. goals?
The SMART framework stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. These are the five primary components of great goal-setting. Each one adds a new dimension to your goals, and shouldn’t be overlooked or dismissed as unimportant.
It’s tempting to be vague with the goals you envision, because it’s easier, but force yourself to clarify exactly what it is you’re trying to accomplish. Think back to your favorite English teacher (if you had one) teaching you how to write a complete sentence, and think about including the who, what, when, where and why. Note that it’s okay if not every one of these applies to every goal. The idea is just to be more specific than not.
For example, a goal of “getting better at public speaking” can easily evolve into “to be told by 5 people within 6 months that I’m a great speaker (to make sure it’s not just my own bias) to increase my influence and impact in people’s lives.” Now that’s a killer goal.
Another vague goal could be to “increase organic visibility” (a term describing how often your brand shows up in search engine results, also called search visibility, SEO visibility, and more). Let’s get more specific by aiming to “increase PubLoft’s organic visibility by 10% within 3 months, by publishing great content in topic cluster form that provides value to our readers, in order to grow our blog traffic and subscribers.” #boom 😉
What’s a specific goal that you’ve set, or would like to set?
If a goal can’t be measured, how are you supposed to know you’ve achieved it? Picking at least one key metric to track is crucial to understanding performance. It doesn’t have to be rocket science—just pick something you can measure and that makes sense.
To continue with our examples, my public speaking goal is measurable by the number of people who compliment me on my speaking. I can keep track of this in a note on my phone, a spreadsheet, a chalkboard in my house—whatever works! I know that once I’ve gotten 5 compliments, I’m doing something right.
Similarly, our goal to increase organic visibility is measured by tools like SEMrush and Moz. In their case, it’s as easy as a click of a button to track search visibility, and they even monitor it over time to show changes.
How do you measure your goal?
It‘s always fun to dream, but the best goals are the ones you can actually achieve.
If you weren’t born in the United States, you (technically) cannot become President. I say technically because, of course, you could spend your entire life working your way up the political ladder, studying law, and gaining influence, until the day you manage to introduce a Constitutional amendment that overturns the requirement to be a natural-born citizen.
That kind of determination is commendable, and I’m not here to crush your dreams. Don’t ever let me or anyone take the fire out of your ambitions.
The bottom line is simply that attainable goals build momentum. When you start with something you know you can achieve, you allow yourself to build momentum with bigger and loftier goals each time. Scott Belsky calls this short-circuiting your reward system and it works.
The other thing to remember about attainability is that, as you build momentum with goal success, you can pick targets that are farther and farther away to push yourself to greater heights. Generally, it’s perfectly okay not to hit your goals smack on the head, as long as you’ve still achieved something noteworthy.
A colloquial alternative to this is, as you may have already guessed, “Shoot for the stars; land on the moon.” 🤷♂️ Can you think of another one?
In our examples, we’re setting very attainable goals: 5 people is not an inconceivable number, and a 10 percent increase in organic visibility is aggressive, but certainly not unheard of. Even if we only get to 7 or 8 percent, we’re doing great. 😊
How attainable is your goal? Could it be more ambitious?
This may be the easiest part of the S.M.A.R.T. goals framework, so I’ll keep it simple. If you’re setting goals that aren’t directly relevant to the path you want to take in life—the person or company you want to be in X years—then you’re doing it wrong.
Sometimes, that takes some serious soul-searching. In high school, I tried to get good math grades to
please appease my dad. It didn’t work until I stopped caring what he thought of me, and instead found a passion for understanding math so I could help a girl I liked. My grades improved when they suddenly became relevant to my own interests… 😋
In this post’s examples, both are relevant—one is a personal goal to become a better public speaker because I enjoy expressing myself intelligently, and providing value in my performances or presentations. And the company goal is highly relevant to both our ability to acquire new customers and to prove that we know what we’re doing with SEO.
How is your goal relevant to you?
Lastly, but very importantly, we have time—that pesky, sometimes-useful-sometimes-annoying fourth dimensional concept; the only resource we all share equally.
When goals are bound by deadlines, it helps put you in the frame of mind to plan and measure progress leading up to that date. This is true whether it’s a soft deadline (where nothing of major consequence happens if you miss it) or a hard deadline (you lose your job, the world explodes, or anything significant). You can—and should—set measurable milestones along the way, to help validate your progress or indicate that something’s not adding up.
By creating a sense of urgency with a time-bound goal, you’re hard-wiring into your subconscious mind that you believe this is an important challenge to undertake. Even if your busy life steals your attention away from your goal, when your mind finally has a chance to become still, you’ll invariably be pulled back to a time-bound goal in which you believe. And that’s a beautiful thing.
Notice that both the examples I give are time-bound: 6 months to get to 5 people mentioning my speaking skills, and 3 months to get to 10 percent site visibility. To set milestones along the way, I could aim to get at least one compliment per month—which requires me to set entirely different goals around the number of speaking occasions I get—and PubLoft could aim to hit 4 percent visibility by the end of the first month, 7 percent the next month, etc.
What’s your soft or hard deadline?
Putting it all together: the impact of S.M.A.R.T. goals
When you set goals with a framework like S.M.A.R.T. it’s like getting your form down with a basketball shot, gym exercise, or guitar riff. You’ll feel more determined, more forward-thinking, and more confident each time you make a small win towards a bigger win.
Ultimately, the game of progress is goals within goals within goals. In the business world, we sometimes use another framework called OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) which were once described by FitBit cofounder Eric Friedman as “goals served in a fractal manner.”
If you don’t know what fractals are, go look them up. Then go set some awesome, time-bound, relevant, attainable, measurable, and super specific goals, and watch your life change.