SMART goals

Meet Cameron. She’s a product manager at a mid-sized tech company, tasked with the challenge of increasing usage of their mobile app.

She knows she’ll need all hands on deck to make this happen. But, previously when she’s set team-wide goals like this, 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 target slips to the back burner — before toppling off the stove entirely. Cameron needs things to be different this time around, and she’s heard a lot about the benefits of SMART goals for setting clear intentions and staying the course.

What are SMART goals?

SMART goals are established using a specific set of criteria that ensures your goals are attainable. SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.

When writing a SMART goal, you work through each of those terms to build a goal that shares exactly what needs to be accomplished, when it needs to be accomplished by, and how you’ll know when you’re successful. Setting goals this way is helpful, because it eliminates generalities and guesswork, sets a clear finish line, and makes it that much easier to track progress and identify missed targets.

Breaking it down

Now the important question: How do you actually use this acronym? Let’s work through each of the letters — using poor old Cameron and her product team as an example.

S: Specific

In order for a goal to be effective, it needs to be specific. That’s why the first letter of this acronym is dedicated to digging into those nitty gritty details.

What exactly does it mean to be specific? A specific goal should answer questions like:

  • What 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 highly-specific goal that not only lays out what you’re aiming for, but also gives any necessary context.

EXAMPLE:

Grow monthly users of CompanyXYZ’s mobile app. This will be accomplished by optimizing our app store listing and by creating targeted social media advertisements for various social platforms.


M: Measurable

That above goal is a solid start. But, take another look, because it’s missing something important: numbers.

Why is it important that goals be measurable? Well, quantifying your goals makes it that much easier to track progress and know when you’ve reached the finish line.

Cameron and the product team need 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? Just one? Six?

To make this goal even more impactful, Cameron should go through and incorporate any necessary numbers and benchmarks.

EXAMPLE:

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.


A: Achievable

Goals should be empowering — not high pedestals from which you eventually tumble. That’s why this letter of the acronym is dedicated to ensuring that your goal is achievable (you’ll also often see this letter dedicated to the synonym ‘attainable’).

Put simply, this is the point in the process when you give yourself a serious reality check. Is the goal you’ve outlined so far actually reasonable? Is it something your team could realistically accomplish? It’s important to consider any conditions or limitations that might impede your goal.

Tip: This step is much easier when you’re the one actually establishing the objectives for your team. Things are a little different when you’re slapped with unachievable goals from on high. In those cases, make sure those restrictions are made explicitly clear — especially to those who are passing down the goal. Even if you can’t shift the end target, at least you’re making your position (and any potential roadblocks) known upfront.

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 mean biting off more than they can chew. She doesn’t want to set them all up for disappointment, so she decides to step that back to only three social networks where her audience is most prominent.

EXAMPLE:

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.


R: Relevant

Nobody wants to set goals for the sake of setting them. There should be a real benefit attached to actually reaching that target.

That’s what’s meant by ‘relevant’ here. During this step, you evaluate why the goal is actually important to you (and your organization as a whole). Once you identify that key benefit, it’s helpful to incorporate that into your actual goal so that everybody has a grasp on the larger picture.

Cameron doesn’t want to increase mobile app usage just 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 their customer lifetime value.

GOOD EXAMPLE:

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.


T: Time-bound

Goals can’t stretch into infinity – they need a deadline. That’s the important final piece of SMART goals. They need to be time-bound (also frequently referred to as ‘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 — she wants to see results sooner than that (and her company may even run out of funding before long). When will her team start posting those social media advertisements? Immediately? Next week? Next year?

Your SMART goals should have those types of deadlines included in them, so that everybody knows how to stay on track within a designated timeline.

When Cameron incorporates those dates, she’s completed her own SMART goal.

THE FINISHED SMART GOAL EXAMPLE:

Grow monthly users of CompanyXYZ’s mobile app by 1,000 users per month within Q1 of 2019. This will be accomplished by optimizing our app store listing and by creating targeted social media advertisements to begin running in February, 2019 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 goals (specifically, SMART goals) for yourself and your team. But, knowing how to achieve goals that you’ve established is a totally separate challenge.

You’ve already taken a great first step by using the SMART criteria to set targets that are informative and motivating. However, there are a few other tips you can implement to set your team up for success in actually reaching that objective.

1. Write your goal down

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.

Sure, jotting down your goal serves as a solid reminder of what you and your team are working toward. But, there’s some neuroscience at play here too.

In a study conducted by Dr. Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at the Dominican University in California, it was concluded that you’re 42% more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down on a regular basis.

So, get out the paper and pen. It’ll help more than you think.

2. Set regular check-ins

We’re all familiar with that rush of excitement and adrenaline 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 Year’s resolutions are tossed to the curb by February.

Any goal worth achieving probably won’t happen overnight. It’s going to take some time to cross that finish line, and it’s important you check in on progress regularly to ensure you or your team aren’t falling off-track.

In Cameron’s scenario, she 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 toward the end target — which is especially important for larger goals that span months or even years.

3. Celebrate your wins (yes, even the small ones)

It’s tempting to think that you need to wait until your entire goal is accomplished in order to celebrate, but that’s not the case. In fact, recognizing smaller wins and milestones can keep you moving in the right direction.

We’ll spare you the in-depth science lesson, but here’s essentially what happens in your brain: a brain chemical called dopamine spikes whenever we anticipate that something important is about to happen (such as accomplishing something that we set out to do). That’s when motivation gets a boost.

So, by setting smaller, incremental goals and then giving ourselves a hearty pat on the back when we actually achieve them, we can increase the amount of dopamine spikes we experience – which 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. But, knowing how to set goals using the SMART framework offers the details and context you need upfront.

Here’s the even better news: setting SMART goals really isn’t all that difficult. You simply need to walk through each letter of the acronym and then fill in the blanks.

Want to make this even easier? Use this straightforward template 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 goals out of the park.

Write achievable goals with the SMART goals framew...