A New Twist on SMART Goals

Business man pointing to transparent board with text: Goals forThis is the season when many companies begin to prioritize strategies for the coming year. Those strategic plans usually involve setting goals for departments as well as individuals. But how much time do you really spend defining clear, measurable goals? Most leaders agree with the importance of setting goals, but many don’t take the time to work with their people to clearly develop goals and write them down. As a result, people tend to get caught in what I call an “activity trap” where they are busy working on projects—but not necessarily the most important projects.

We’ve all heard the term SMART goals. Let’s take a closer look at each of the elements in the SMART acronym, which we define as:

S = specific

M = motivating

A = attainable

R = relevant

T = trackable

Here’s the twist: I’m going to ask you to think of this familiar acronym in a new way—as STRAM. Why STRAM? Because the most effective way to write a goal statement is to start with the Specific and Trackable elements first.

  • The leader should describe the Specific goal and when or how often it needs to be accomplished.
  • Now the leader needs to make sure the goal is Trackable.  How will progress or performance be tracked or measured?

To give you an example, take a look at these two similar goal statements.

  1. Produce monthly financial reports.
  2. Submit accurate and timely financial reports on a bimonthly basis for the next 12 months as measured by end user feedback.

Which of these is the SMART goal? The second one. Why? The first is a goal statement, but it isn’t specific or trackable. The second goal statement provides precise outcomes for accurate and timely financials on a bimonthly basis. And the results will be measured by end user reports. So the second goal is specific and trackable.

Once the S and T are in place, the leader and team member can review the other three elements—Relevant, Attainable and Motivating—to check if the goal is truly SMART.

  • The leader has the responsibility for making the goal Relevant by ensuring the goal is important and that accomplishing the goal will make a difference to the organization.
  • The leader and team member work together to make sure the goal is Attainable. It must be realistic and achievable. When a goal is too difficult to accomplish, people may give up—but when it is too easy, people tend to procrastinate.
  • Ultimately, each team member determines for themselves if the goal is Motivating by considering if it is exciting and meaningful. Will it drain energy from their work experience or add enjoyment? Will the goal help build competence, relationships, or autonomy?

If you take some time up front to write SMART goals, your team will be able to focus on the most important projects that will support not only organizational goals but also each team member’s personal needs. This will create an energized and motivating work environment that supports both great results and human satisfaction—a winning combination for success.

What are America’s key national goals?

(This is the sixth installment in my twelve-part blog series A Leadership Vision for America)

In the past several weeks, I have gone into detail about the first secret our government leaders need to know to improve our system in Washington:  Have a compelling vision.  For a compelling vision to endure, all three elements—a significant purpose, a picture of the future, and clear values—are needed to guide behavior on a day-to-day basis. A perfect example of this is the way Martin Luther King, Jr. outlined his vision in his “I Have a Dream” speech. By describing a world where his children “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” he created powerful and specific images arising from the values of brotherhood, respect, and freedom for all—values that resonate with those of the founding values of the United States. King’s vision continues to mobilize and guide people beyond his lifetime because it illuminates a significant purpose, provides a picture of the future, and describes values that resonate with people’s hopes and dreams.

Once you have a clear and compelling vision, you can establish goals that help people determine what they should focus on right now. In his book Educating Voters for Rebuilding America, Jack Bowsher suggests six potential national goals that would achieve the picture of the future he proposes:

  • Peace with strong defense and Homeland Security systems
  • Prosperity and a rising standard of living with high level of employment
  • Adequate and affordable health care system for all
  • Superior and affordable education systems
  • Efficient and affordable government
  • Decent retirement for senior citizens

I think Jack is really on to something with these goals. I would love to see each of our presidential candidates identify the key goals he wants to accomplish nationally, and then spell out his plans and programs to achieve those goals. Rather than debates, candidates could participate in goal accomplishment sessions: First they would have to agree on the key goals to accomplish in the country within the next four years, and then each would give his own strategies to achieve each goal.

Wouldn’t you love to hear our candidates lay out their specific goals for America and then clearly explain how they expect to accomplish those goals? Do you think this idea is realistic, unrealistic, optimistic, idealistic, or something else?

Next time, we will move on to the second secret for how our leaders in Washington can turn things around:  Treat citizens as their business partners.

New Year’s Resolution Time!

It’s time again to think about New Year’s resolutions. I like to picture myself sitting here one year from today, looking back on 2012 and smiling because I’ve accomplished two or three things that I wanted to accomplish over the year. I’m patting myself on the back! 

So what would you like to do between now and then?  Now you’re going to obviously have some goals in terms of your job and your organization, but what about you personally?  What about your weight?  Your exercise?  Your health?  What about learning a new language, like Spanish or Chinese?  What about improving your organizational skills?  What about writing something that you’ve wanted to write for a long time?  What would really make you feel good if you accomplished it by the end of next year? 

It’s great to write out your resolutions as SMART goals.  Be Specific on what you want so that it’s observable and measurable.  M stands for motivational—make sure it’s something that excites you. Is it Attainable?  Don’t set some unrealistic goal that there’s no chance you’ll accomplish.  Make sure your goal is Relevant and important to you.  And have a goal that is Trackable, which means you can chart it over time so you can catch yourself doing things approximately right and see yourself making progress. 

I have found that I do best on New Year’s Resolutions if I share them with my wife Margie and people at work, and anybody else who is around me, so they can help and support me. We all need an accountability group to help set ourselves up for success. 

So in the next few days I’ll be thinking more about what I would like to accomplish that’s going to make me feel good.  What would you like to do?  How do you want 2012 to go for you?  Let’s see if we can help each other keep our commitment to our commitment.  So often New Year’s Resolutions are just announcements.  Don’t just announce it; really make it happen!  And good on you for 2012!

Lastly, I’ve posted a few of my resolutions for 2012… take a read, and let everyone know a few of your own! http://howwelead.org/resolutions/

Why does Leadership Matter?

Even in these hard times, some people still wonder whether or not leadership really matters. Jim Collins did a good job explaining why leadership matters.  He wrote the bestselling book From Good to Great.  In that book, Collins talks about how great leaders have two capabilities:  One is resolve, or determination to accomplish a goal, and the other is humility.  He describes how leaders with resolve and humility can build a good company into a great company.  But one of the best ways to appreciate the value of good leadership is when you see how fast a poor leader can take a good organization down. Collins says it takes a lot of people to move a good organization into greatness, but it can take very little time for just one lousy leader to send a great organization downhill.

Leadership is very important. Leaders have a major role in setting the vision to move toward the organization’s goals, and then creating a motivating environment for people so those goals can be reached. But boy, leaders who don’t know what they’re doing, or have big egos, can take a good company and drive it straight into the ground. So don’t kid yourself.  Leadership does matter.

The Difference between Leadership, Management, and Supervision

A lot of people ask me, “What’s the difference between leadership, management, and supervision?”  Most people think it’s about where you are in the hierarchy—if you’re at the top, you’re a leader; if you’re in the middle, you’re a manager; and if you are closest to the people who are actually dealing with the customers, you’re in supervision.

I’d like to break the mold and forget about those labels. I believe all three are leadership roles. No matter whether you’re at the top, in the middle, or supervising people on the front lines, as a leader you first need to make sure that everybody is clear on goals. The first secret of The One Minute Manager is One Minute Goal Setting. All good performance starts with clear goals, which is the vision and direction part of leadership. The next thing you need to do is to help people accomplish those goals. That brings to mind the second and third secrets of The One Minute Manager. The second secret is One Minute Praising. After people are clear on what they are being asked to do, you need to wander around and see if you can catch them doing something right. Accent the positive and praise them. If someone does something wrong, but is a learner, don’t punish the person. Just say, “Maybe it wasn’t clear about what we were working on,” and redirect. However, if you are dealing with an experienced person who for some reason has a lousy attitude, give the person a One Minute Reprimand, which is the third secret of The One Minute Manager. That’s where you make clear what the person did wrong: “You didn’t get your report in on Friday, and I really needed it. Let me tell you how I feel – I’m really upset about it.”  Be sure, though, that you always end with a reaffirmation: “The reason I’m upset is that you’re one of my best people and I always count on you for that.”

Every level of leadership starts with clear vision and direction and then moves to implementation. Remember that managers, supervisors, and CEOs are all leaders. Don’t let yourself get hung up on labels.