Meet Cameron. She’s a product manager at a mid-sized tech company, tasked with increasing usage of their mobile app.
She knows she’ll need all hands on deck to make this happen. But when she’s set team-wide goals like this in the past, things have quickly fallen off track.
Nobody has a clear understanding of what success looks like, progress isn’t closely monitored, and soon, that important objective slips to the back burner (before toppling off the stove entirely). This time around, Cameron plans to leverage SMART goals for setting an action plan and staying the course.
What are SMART goals?
SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound) goals are established using a specific set of criteria that ensures your objectives are attainable within a certain time frame.
Writing a SMART goal entails working through each of those five components to build a measurable goal that encompasses exactly what needs to be accomplished and when, and how you’ll know when you’re successful. This approach eliminates generalities and guesswork, sets a clear timeline, and makes it that much easier to track progress and identify missed milestones.
How to write SMART goals
So how can this acronym help with goal setting? Let’s work through each component, using Cameron and her team as an example.
In order for a goal to be effective, it needs to be specific – don’t be afraid to dig into those nitty-gritty details.
A specific goal answers questions like:
- What objective needs to be accomplished?
- Who is responsible for it?
- What steps will you take to achieve it?
Thinking through those prompts will help you set a realistic goal that lays out what you’re aiming for and gives that vital context. Here’s an example of a specific goal Cameron might come up with:
Grow monthly users of CompanyXYZ’s mobile app. This will be accomplished by optimizing our app store listing and creating targeted social media advertisements for various social platforms.
Specificity is a solid start, but it’s missing something important: numbers. Quantifying your goals (that is, making sure they’re measurable) makes it that much easier to track progress and know when you’ve reached the finish line.
Cameron and her product team want to grow their mobile app users. By how much? If they get even one new signup, that’s technically positive growth – so does that mean they’re done? The same is true for their social media advertising. How many platforms will they advertise on?
To make this SMART goal even more impactful, Cameron should incorporate measurable, trackable benchmarks.
Grow monthly users of CompanyXYZ’s mobile app by 1,000 users per month. This will be accomplished by optimizing our app store listing and by creating targeted social media advertisements for four social media platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.
Goals should be realistic — not high pedestals from which you inevitably tumble. Achievability means ensuring that your goal is within reach (you’ll also sometimes see this letter representing “attainable”).
Put simply, this is the point in the process when you give yourself a serious reality check. Is the goal you’ve outlined attainable? Is it something your team could actually accomplish? It’s important to consider any limitations that might impede your goal.
This step is much easier when you’re the one actually establishing SMART objectives for your team. Things are a little different when you’re slapped with unachievable business goals from on high. In those cases, make sure those constraints are made explicitly clear — especially to those who are passing down the goal. Even if you can’t shift the end goal, at least you’re making your position (and any potential roadblocks) known up front.
In terms of being realistic herself, Cameron might look at her goal above and realize that, given her small team and their already full workload, maintaining advertisements on four different social platforms might be biting off more than they can chew. She doesn’t want to set them all up for disappointment, so she decides to scale back to the three social networks where she’s most likely to find new clients.
Grow monthly users of CompanyXYZ’s mobile app by 1,000 users per month. This will be accomplished by optimizing our app store listing and by creating targeted social media advertisements for three social media platforms: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Nobody sets goals for the fun of it. There should be a real benefit attached to reaching your chosen objective.
That’s what’s meant by “relevant” here. During this step, you evaluate why the goal matters to you and your organization. Once you identify that key benefit, incorporate it into your SMART goal so everybody has a grasp on the larger picture.
Cameron doesn’t want to increase mobile app usage for the sake of her own ego. She knows that the app is a huge driver of customer loyalty, and an uptick in their app usage could mean big things for her business’ long-term goals.
Grow monthly users of CompanyXYZ’s mobile app by 1,000 users per month. This will be accomplished by optimizing our app store listing and by creating targeted social media advertisements for three social media platforms: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Because mobile users tend to use our product longer, the aim of growing our app usage is to ultimately increase profitability.
Good goals don’t stretch into infinity – they have a deadline. The final component of SMART goals is that they need to be time-bound (also referred to as “time-based” or “timely”).
This is another important piece of measuring success. You and your team need to be on the same page about when a goal has been reached.
Can Cameron increase app usage within the next decade and still count that as a success? Probably not. When will her team start posting those social media advertisements? Immediately? Next week? Next year?
Your SMART goals should have time-related parameters built in, so everybody knows how to stay on track within a designated time frame.
When Cameron incorporates those dates, her SMART goal is complete.
Grow monthly users of CompanyXYZ’s mobile app by 1,000 users per month within Q1 of 2021. This will be accomplished by optimizing our app store listing and by creating targeted social media advertisements to begin running in February 2021 on three social media platforms: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Our mobile is our primary point of conversion for paid customer signups, so the aim of growing our app usage is to ultimately increase sales.
Make it happen: how to accomplish your goals
Now you know how to write SMART goals – but knowing how to achieve them is a totally separate challenge.
You’ve already taken a great first step by using the SMART criteria to set attainable, measurable, results-based targets. But there are a few other ways to set your team up for success.
1. Write down your goal
You’ve established your goal… now what? Should you just let it rattle around in your brain until it’s over and done? Nope. You should write it down.
Jotting down your goal serves as a solid reminder of what you and your team members are working toward – but there’s some neuroscience at play here too.
A study conducted by Dr. Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at the Dominican University in California, found that people are 42 percent more likely to achieve their goals when they write them down.
2. Set regular check-ins
We’re all familiar with that rush of excitement we feel when we’re about to tackle something new. But once you get a little further in, that feeling quickly fades — it’s why so many New Years’ resolutions are kicked to the curb by February.
Any goal worth achieving probably won’t happen overnight, and it’s important to check in on your progress regularly to ensure you aren’t falling off track.
Cameron, for instance, could institute a weekly meeting or update on a Confluence page to keep everybody in the know about their usage metrics.
Having those recurring reminders and opportunities for feedback will keep everybody motivated, which is especially important for larger business goals that span months or even years.
3. Celebrate your wins (even the small ones)
Don’t wait until your entire goal is accomplished to celebrate; recognizing smaller wins and milestones can keep you moving in the right direction.
We’ll spare you the in-depth science lesson, but, essentially, you get a dopamine spike whenever you anticipate that something important is about to happen (like accomplishing something you set out to do). That’s what triggers a motivation boost.
So, by setting smaller, incremental goals and then giving ourselves a hearty pat on the back when we achieve them, we can increase those dopamine spikes, which in turn encourage us to stay the course.
The SMART way to reach your goals
Not all goals are created equal; vague objectives leave you wondering what to do next and how you’ll measure your success. Knowing how to set goals using the SMART framework offers the details and context you need upfront.
Even better news: setting SMART goals isn’t all that difficult. Just walk through each letter of the acronym and fill in the blanks based on your particular objectives.
Want to make it even easier? Download a SMART goals template, or use this straightforward formula to craft your own:
Our goal is to [quantifiable objective] by [timeframe or deadline]. [Key players or teams] will accomplish this goal by [what steps you’ll take to achieve the goal]. Accomplishing this goal will [result or benefit].
Put that template and this advice to work and, much like Cameron, you and your team will be ready to knock your own (achievable!) goals out of the park.
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