Goal setting is one of the fundamental skills that managers need to be successful, in part because goals are one of the most powerful tools available to manage performance and to achieve individual and organizational objectives.
But simply having a goal is not enough to get the job done. A good goal has some key characteristics that help make it concrete. For first-time managers, the well-known SMART goal concept serves as a guide to setting strong goals.
A SMART goal is:
Specific. A specific goal is one that is clearly defined. It’s the difference wanting to increase sales and setting a goal to send out 15 proposals per month for six months. A specific goal makes it clear whether it’s been achieved or not. This is important in performance management because the manager and the team member agree on what the goal is and when it has been achieved.
Measurable. A measurable goal has a defined output that you can count. It might be the number of projects you complete or a finish line you can clearly define as the endpoint for the goal.
Attainable/achievable. Every goal should be possible to achieve, or else why set it in the first place? While stretch goals are great, they shouldn’t be such a stretch that they feel impossible.
Relevant. Good goals have a purpose–they’re relevant to the person or the organization.
Timely. A timely goal has a clearly defined end date. By agreeing at the outset on the timeframe for completion, you make it more likely that the goal will be achieved.
Achieving your SMART goals
Having a goal that meets these criteria is only a starting point. The ability to achieve the goal requires a few other keys:
Key No. 1: Assemble the resources needed to pursue your goal. It’s hard to achieve an objective unless you have the resources you need. Let’s use the example of improving your public speaking abilities. You might need to budget some money to take a class. You also might need a place to practice or a speaking coach. You might pick up a book or watch a TED talk. Either way, you’ll need some tools to get the job done.
Key No. 2: Create an action plan. The goal is the endpoint. It’s the target you’re aiming at. But getting there often requires a series of activities. While each of these activities might be a smaller goal, to stay on track you’ll need a plan. This is also a great way to monitor daily progress as you work toward your final destination.
Key No. 3: Get support. Another important key to achieving goals is gathering a support team. If you’ve ever tried to learn a new programming language or develop your ability to present to groups, you know that change is hard. It can be easy to get discouraged and fall back to doing what you know, rather than working through the tough parts.
That’s when having great support can really help you stay the course. Whether it’s an industry group you join or a peer group you form in your organization, sharing the journey with others will help you get through the times when you feel like you want to quit.
Goals are an important tool in developing your team, if you’re a new manager, and developing yourself. The key to achieving your objectives is to make sure your goals are SMART, and then give yourself the resources, the action plan, and the support you need to get where you want to go.
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