How to spot stupid goals

You have probably heard or read about setting SMART goals. These are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. So how do you check if the goals and objectives of your plan meet this standard?

Specific. Your goals are not specific if they mean more than one thing. For example what if I said our goal is to expand our market. What does that mean? Does it mean we will try more market penetration to acquire more customers? Does it mean we will enter new geographical areas? Or does it mean that we will expand our product line? So make sure that your goal is restated until there is no doubt about what it really means. Make sure that if you have to use technical terms or jargon that there is a common understanding as to what those technical terms mean. Add a glossary to the bottom of your strategic plan with a description of terms and acronyms.

Measureable. If you can’t measure it then you cannot manage it. I don’t really know who first said that but I have learnt that without measurement it is hard to know how far or close you are to achieving your goal or in fact if you have achieved it at all. There is a certain magic to numbers. “Increase our client base” is very vague when compared with “increase our clients base by 10, each with billings of at least $50,000 per year”. So check for those open ended non-measurable goals. You need to know where the goal post is to know that you have reached it. You need to measure where you’re at now and where you’re at when you have achieved your goal. Brush up on your math, improve your understanding of statistics and quantitative analysis. They will come in very handy when creating measurable goals.

Achievable. If you can’t get there, then why bother? Goals that are too ambitious, unrealistic and require more than you can invest in terms of time, effort and money become demoralizing. And your chances of meeting those goals are likely zero. So if you are a small retailer, don’t come up with a goal such as buying out Walmart. Unless of course your small retail store is just a front and you are secretly the lost son of distant oil rich tycoon. Even then I would hesitate to make a goal such as buying out Walmart. Taking on huge goals is like trying to eat a whole meal in one gulp. You could choke on it. Pursuing pie-in-the-sky goals is like chasing false dreams and you could completely exhaust all your resources trying to achieve them. Even if you do achieve it, you might be so drained of your resources that you will not be able to enjoy the fruits of your labour. You may not be able to sustain or hold the position that you have reached. There are companies who made huge expensive mergers or acquisitions only to find themselves so short of cash that they could not invest in anything else to remain competitive in the market and eventually that acquisition was the cause of their demise.

Relevant. Does this goal have anything to do with your strategy? Remember if you’re a commercial business, your strategy is geared towards maximizing profits. Are your goals directly or indirectly related to that? If not, then they are likely irrelevant. Your strategic plan of course may be quite detailed and have a number of areas. Let’s say that your finance department staff already have basic spreadsheet skills and now you want to provide training on the new budgeting spreadsheet templates that you have recently developed especially for your company. Well in that case enrolling them for an intermediate general course on spreadsheets may be irrelevant. It is more relevant to get specific training on the custom budgeting spreadsheet templates. Putting together an irrelevant goal is like aiming in the wrong direction. You have no chance of hitting the target.

Time-bound. This is one of the most difficult for people to adhere to. And justifiably so. Attempts to achieve goals within a pre-specified period may fail. So the argument is, “Well, if we can’t adhere to the timeline, then why have one?” The answer to that is simple, “If we don’t have a timeline then we will have left things completely open-ended and they could carry on forever or at the very least just drag on for too long.” Saying that we want to complete a training program within six months helps with planning to make it happen. At the very least there will be, or should be, genuine attempts to shoot for six months. In the end it might still take seven or eight months. However if there is no timing, how will you know when to start? How will you know when to secure resources, set things up or make sure people are available?

So remember, always make your goals SMART at the outset. And after you have written them down, you will need to go back, perhaps use this guide as a reminder, to make sure that they do in fact comply with the SMART principle.

Good luck with your goals.

Thanks for reading. Leave me a comment and let me know what you think of this article.


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