Eighty percent of New Year’s resolutions fail by February. Setting big goals can be exciting, but it’s hard to follow through when reality hits. Finding success in achieving your goals starts at the beginning of the process when you set them. That’s why using SMART goals is one of the best ways to make your professional dreams come true.
What are SMART goals? In this guide, we’ll go over what the SMART goals acronym stands for, examples of SMART goals, and why and how you should set them for yourself.
- What Does the SMART Goals Acronym Mean?
- Why Should You Use SMART Goals?
- SMART Goals Template
- SMART Goals Examples
What Does the Smart Goals Acronym Mean?
The SMART goals acronym spells out attributes of the goals you’re setting. Each letter represents a part of the goal that makes it clear and actionable.
First, get specific about what the goal is. You can use the typical “five W” questions for this — who, what, where, when, and why. Your goal is to specify who’s involved, what exactly needs to be done, where and when this is happening, and why you’re setting this goal.
For example, let’s say you want to expand your professional network. To be specific, you’d think about who you might want to network with, what platforms you’re going to use for virtual networking, where you might go to network in person, when you’d be able to network, and why this is a goal for you.
“Setting a specific goal helps avoid what I call goal scope creep, when you set a goal that’s not easily quantified and is, therefore, not easy to track to completion,” Gretchen Skalka, leadership and career development coach, says. “Being specific with your goal means you determine what you want to achieve and can identity actionable steps to get there.”
Now that you know your goal, you need to figure out how you’ll measure your success.
Setting measurable goals on ideas that feel more creative or people-focused can be challenging. Start by thinking about things you can control while working on this goal.
For example, let’s say you want a promotion this year. Yet many external factors, like company finances, timing, your manager, and even internal politics, can affect whether this happens.
Instead, focus on what you can control and therefore measure. What do you need to do to be eligible for that promotion? Do you need to learn a new skill? Hit a quota? Reach a team metric? Measure your success by meeting those qualifications.
In the networking example, a measurable goal could be how many LinkedIn messages you send in a month or how many coffee introductions you have.
A goal you can successfully reach is feasible to achieve. Think about the resources you have to help you get to this goal, whether that’s time, experience, money, access to courses, or even people who can help you. This doesn’t mean you can’t dream big; you just need to be practical, too.
For instance, growing your network to 500 new connections may not be achievable within six months if you have a full-time job. You should consider the time and energy you can reasonably put toward this goal. If you’re working 40 hours a week, maybe it’s more achievable for you to make five strong in-person connections and send 20 LinkedIn messages in that timeframe.
Be sure to adjust your goals to what’s achievable for you with your specific resources.
If your ultimate goal is to make your way through the software engineer career path, you may not want to make a SMART goal focusing on creative writing.
At work, your SMART goals should be relevant to your career development and the company’s broader goals. What will help you succeed in your role or get to the next level, and how does this contribute to the company’s mission and goals?
Like making your goals measurable helps you know whether you’ve achieved them, making your goals time-bound gives you a time frame for when you should complete them.
“Having your goal be time-bound is also critical because it not only provides a sense of urgency, but affords you the ability to establish more control for overall goal attainment,” Skalka says. “Open-ended goals often end up being more aspirational than achievable. Establishing a timeframe is also another measurement opportunity, which speaks right back to motivation and milestones.”
Consider how long you’ll need to achieve this goal and, if other people are involved, how long they might take to deliver.
If we’re using the networking example, you’ll need to factor in both how much time you have to reach out to new connections and that it might take them some time to get back to you.
Why Should You Use SMART Goals?
SMART goals are helpful in the workplace because they’re more likely to lead you to success. When you know precisely what you want to achieve, why you want to achieve it, and have a structure for when you’re going to achieve it, it becomes much more straightforward to execute.
“SMART goals create a true north, providing direction and structure which help you maintain engagement, organization, and motivation,” says Zach Smith, co-founder and chief activation officer at Activate 180, an employee performance and career coaching platform. “When you have a vision of the future based on your initiatives, it creates lasting alignment.”
Sharing your SMART goals with others at work can also keep you accountable and promote the visibility of your efforts.
“If you declare commitment to a goal, create a timeframe for check-in, and inform a third party of your intention, you are 95% more likely to succeed in reaching your objective,” Smith says. “I suggest telling a boss about your intentions during a one-on-one meeting and asking them to consistently check in with you regarding your progress, as this will provide the structure needed to keep you on track. Further, creating initiatives in front of a leader conveys that you are an ambitious self-starter with initiative. Constructing effective goals and targets you continuously accomplish showcases credibility and may contribute to future professional mobility.”
SMART Goals Template
Ready to start setting your own SMART goals? Here’s a template to fill out.
Remember the five “W”s and be precise with your goal and why you want to achieve it.
How will you know when you’ve succeeded in achieving this goal? What output(s) are you going to track?
Is this feasible with the resources you have right now, or is there a way to get those resources?
Is this in line with your and the company’s professional goals?
By when do you want to achieve this goal?
Combine all of the above into a cohesive goal statement.
SMART Goals Examples
Example 1: Collaboration
Let’s say one of your goals is to collaborate more with your coworkers. Great! Yet how will you do that, and how do you know when you’ll achieve it?
Who? I want to collaborate with people outside of my team.
What? Facilitate more connection points like brainstorming, coffee chats, and information swapping.
Where? Asynchronously in Slack and in Zoom meetings (but not too many).
When? At least once a week.
Why? To expand my network and visibility and help my team by sharing information.
I will succeed if I meet with one external team member weekly and set up one method of asynchronous weekly communication.
I will need to get buy-in from my manager and internal team by surveying who wants to be involved in these meetings/communications. Members of the product team are on board, but I will also need buy-in from other external team members.
This is relevant to my professional goals of expanding my network and visibility within the company. This is also helpful to the company’s larger goals because it will help us work efficiently, and there has been feedback from my coworkers that we need to collaborate more.
I plan to set up these initial collaboration communications by the end of Q1.
Increase collaboration with external team members by setting up one weekly meeting and one asynchronous communication channel by the end of Q1.
Example 2: Learn a New Skill
You may be looking to level up in your career and want to expand your skill set. Here’s how to hone in on what skill to pick up and how to get it done.
Showcase new skills
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Who? I want to upskill.
What? I’m a software engineer, and learning DevOps will help me be a more efficient team member.
Where? I can take a course to learn this skill.
When? During work hours, if I gain approval from my manager; if not, I can do this after work or on the weekend.
Why? Learning DevOps will teach me a new approach to engineering that can help with our company’s software delivery and make me a better software engineer.
I will complete and pass one DevOps course. Then, I will share my learnings in one presentation with my team.
If I want to do this during work hours, I’ll need approval from my manager. She is invested in my growth, and there is a clear use case for this. I can use my company’s learning and development stipend to pay for the course.
This will make me a better software engineer and could impact the entire team’s software development process if I share what I’ve learned. I will share my experience after completing the course so my team benefits.
I will complete this course within the next six months.
Develop my software engineering skill set by completing one DevOps course in the next six months. Then, share my new skills with the engineering team to help improve our processes.
SMART Goals: The Bottom Line
SMART goals help us turn vague dreams into concrete, actionable plans that help us grow at work. Although they might take more work in the short term, they make executing goals easier, clearer, and achievable in the long term.
Practice setting SMART Goals with Teach For Australia’s SMART Goal Virtual Experience Program.
Image credit: Mikhail Nilov / Pexels