What Are Smart Objectives? (And How to Use Them)

Imagine you’re planning a road trip to a place you’ve never been. Before leaving, you would probably open up Google Maps and plan your route. The same principle carries over to personal and professional goal-setting. Mapping out your journey with smart objectives is a strategic way you get where you want to go, when you want to get there — and to avoid time-consuming wrong turns along the way. As the CEO of my own company, my most precious resource is time. I’m tasked with the role of leading my team to our organization’s goals, and I want to make sure we don’t waste time getting off track. Smart objectives help me accomplish that, and they can help you, too.

What are Smart Objectives?

Smart objectives are a framework for accomplishing your goals. SMART is an acronym consisting of five key elements on the road map toward efficiency. If an objective is “smart,” it will be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-oriented

These elements create an action plan for where you want to go and an assessment tool for measuring progress along the way.((Entrepreneur: What Are SMART Goals and How Can You Set and Achieve Them?)) George Duran, a consultant and former Director of Corporate Planning for Washington Water Power Company, developed the framework of SMART goals ((Management Review: There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management’s goals and objectives)) to help managers lead their organizations toward their goals. However, smart objectives are an effective method for anyone who wants to accomplish something — professional or personal — in the most efficient way. By clearly defining the steps and resources you need to move toward your accomplishments — and signaling progress as you go — smart objectives keep you motivated and on track, increasing the odds you’ll get where you want to go. How does this play out practically? Perhaps you’re tasked with increasing the SEO traffic to your company’s website. As is, this objective is quite vague. How much do you want to increase the traffic? And by when? Smart goals add specificity to your objectives, making your desired outcome, along with your action steps, as concrete as possible.

How to Use SMART Objectives to Increase Your Efficiency

As with any new routine, implementing smart objectives requires a bit of time and intentionality, but in the end, they should save you some hassle. With the right steps and mindset, you will be able to move closer to your goals without wasting valuable time or energy. The first step to implementing and applying smart objectives is thinking big. Take some time to zoom out and reflect on the big picture. What’s your overall vision for your project or organization? Once you establish an idea of where you want all your hard work to lead you five or ten years down the road, you can use smart objectives to brainstorm the most effective steps to get there.

1. Be as Specific as Possible

When you’re venturing out on a road trip, you probably have an idea of where you’re going. If you don’t have a clear picture of where you want to go, you won’t know how to get there. That’s why it’s vital to be as specific as possible about the end result you’re seeking. Think of this specificity as creating a mission statement for your goal.((University of California: SMART Goals: A How to Guide)) For example, recently, my colleagues and I decided we wanted to streamline our customer service process. Ideally, this would result in happier customers, a respectable goal on its own. But what would this improvement look like, tangibly? Customer reviews are one way to concretely determine whether our customers are thrilled with our product and service. Therefore, to make the goal more specific, we decided we wanted our five-star ratings to increase. With a specific improvement in mind, we were able to develop practical action steps to get there. We also gained new motivation to make our customers’ experience great. To create a specific goal of your own, write out exactly what you’re trying to accomplish, with the most specific wording as possible. Avoid words like “increase” or “improve,” which are vague, and choose a specific action instead.

2. Make Your Goals Measurable

To make your objectives “smart,” you need a way to track your progress and understand when you’ve met expectations. Using my example, my team and I knew we wanted our positive ratings to improve. But by how much? How would we know when our work was paying off? We decided increasing our five-star online reviews by 30 percent would be an accurate way of measuring our progress. We had improved our sales by this much before, so applying the same objective to our reviews seemed reasonable. When you create your own smart goals, make sure to establish a benchmark. Associating a number, amount, percentage, or frequency with your goal creates a “bullseye” target for you to hit. It’s your quantified picture of success.

3. Be Realistic

It’s important to stretch yourself when you’re chasing a goal. However, since time is of the essence for most of us, it’s crucial to be realistic. Can this goal actually be achieved with your existing time and resources, or does it need to be scaled down and integrated into a larger plan? When my team and I set out to improve our user ratings, I had to examine the likelihood we could actually accomplish it. If I had doubted our ability to do so, I would have tweaked the objective. For example, I could have stretched the deadline, or decreased the measurement of success. Looking back at past progress and analytics is one way to double check that your smart objective is realistic. Are you hoping for a spike in traffic to your company’s website? If your past few months have shown an increase of just two or three percent, a goal of 10 percent growth might be a stretch. Save yourself time and frustration and aim to be as realistic as possible.

4. Opt for Goals That Are Relevant to Your Business

Another common time-waster is: Creating goals that are irrelevant to an individual or organization’s core values or strategy. For my colleagues and me, happy customers are the primary benchmark for success. We built our product and company to save our customers time and improve their lives, so a goal of improving customer ratings made sense. It fit with the direction we were already going. When you’re developing smart objectives of your own, ask yourself whether your goal lines up with your organization’s strategic plans and with industry trends. In other words, make sure your desired objective matters. You want your hard work to pay off.

5. Choose a Specific Time Frame

The final step in creating smart objectives is allotting a specific time frame to your goal. Every objective has mile markers and a destination, so make sure to ask yourself the question “When will this be done?” Adding the boundaries of a particular time frame will keep you focused and on schedule. In our case, we were aiming for a 30-percent improvement in reviews within three months. This deadline created a sense of pressure that motivated us to work hard, but it also felt realistic. With the time frame in mind, our objective went from “increase positive reviews” to “grow five-star ratings by 30 percent within three months.”

The Bottom Line

If you’re creating smart objectives of your own, you’re creating a road map to your success. The good news is, taking time to create these goals is a major part of the journey. As the famous author, salesman, and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar once said,

“A goal properly set is halfway reached.”

Want to learn more about how to create and implement smart objectives in your personal life? Check out 20 Examples of Personal SMART Goals to Improve Your Life.

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