No matter where you are in your career, whether you’re an executive with 10 years of experience or an intern who is just getting started on the career ladder, being able to set goals to achieve is a useful skill to have.
Drifting into a career without setting goals is common, but if you want to get ahead and pursue an ambitious vision, setting goals is essential. Having a goal set will help you stay on track throughout your career and give you a focal point when you make career decisions.
In this guide, we’re going to talk about how you can use the SMART approach to set career goals.
What Is a SMART Goal?
A SMART goal is an actionable objective determined using a specific set of criteria. SMART is an acronym for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.
When you are writing a SMART goal, you should judge whether your objective is right for you based on those five criteria. You should use the SMART criteria to determine exactly what you need to accomplish and how you’ll know if and when you have reached your goal.
The SMART goal framework has become popular in professional workplaces and career development. This is because SMART provides a structured way of setting goals focused on action and constantly measuring your progress toward your goals.
How to Write SMART Goals
You need to know how the SMART framework is utilized before you can put it to use.
Let’s break down each of the five components of the SMART framework, and discuss what they mean. To illustrate each component, we are going to use an example of an account manager, Lucy, who is trying to improve her account retention rate.
S for Specific
Good goals are specific. When you are setting a SMART goal, you should make sure that your end result has been clearly laid out. Think about what you want to accomplish, and consider each step you are going to take to achieve that objective.
“I want to improve my account retention rate. I will accomplish this goal by being more proactive in reaching out to our clients. I will also follow up with clients every two weeks to ensure that they are having a pleasurable experience using our products.”
M for Measurable
How do you know that you are making progress toward your goal? In this case, how is Lucy going to know if she has boosted her account retention rate?
The answer is by establishing a clear metric to track her progress. Focusing in on a specific metric will help you track your progress. Having a clear metric to track will also allow you to know when you have met your goal.
To write a SMART goal, you should think about the main metric that shows you have made progress. In Lucy’s case, she wants to boost her retention rate. To do so, she could track client engagement as a leading indicator and her retention rate as a lagging indicator.
“I want to improve my account retention rate by 10%. I will accomplish this goal by responding to all client correspondence within at least 48 hours. I will also follow up with clients every two weeks to ensure they are having a positive experience using our products.”
A for Achievable
While you may have big ambitions for a project, oversetting a goal may make it feel out of reach. This may discourage you from actively pursuing your goal.
When you are setting objectives, you should make sure that each goal can be reached within a reasonable timeframe? Do you have the skills necessary to achieve the goal that you have set?
Lucy may realize that her initial goal – increasing her account retention rate by 10% – was too bold. She is still early in her career and she is only starting to experiment with new retention-boosting techniques. So, she may decide to change her goal to be lower, so that she feels like progress is being made.
“I want to improve my account retention rate by 5%. I will accomplish this goal by responding to all client correspondence within at least 48 hours. I will also follow up with clients every two weeks to ensure they are having a positive experience using our products.”
Notice how Lucy has changed her goal from boosting account retention by 10% to 5%. This new goal is more achievable given Lucy’s current abilities and stage in her career.
R for Relevant
There should be a clear reason why you are setting a goal. That’s where the R in SMART comes in. When you are setting a goal, you should think about whether the goal will help you achieve something. Does it align with your long-term interests? Does it reflect an organizational priority?
Having a relevant goal will ensure you don’t doubt yourself in the future and change your goal before you have the chance to accomplish it.
Lucy is looking to boost her account retention rate because she knows doing so will have a positive impact on company revenue growth. The more clients she can retain, the more money the business will earn. Having more loyal clients will also give the business a more dependable stream of income.
“I want to improve my account retention rate by 5%. I will accomplish this goal by responding to all client correspondence within at least 48 hours. I will also follow up with clients every two weeks to ensure they are having a positive experience using our products. This goal is important because it will help our business develop a more reliable and consistent stream of income, which is a goal our management team cares about.”
T for Time-Bound
Setting a deadline to meet a goal is a good way to hold yourself accountable. SMART goals encourage you to set a deadline to ensure focus on achieving your goal within a specific time frame.
In Lucy’s case, she wants to boost her account retention rate. Right now, she hasn’t set a time frame in which to achieve her goal. Boosting retention by 5% is certainly doable in five years. But is that really the time frame in which she wants to operate?
For Lucy, she wants to accomplish this goal within the next three months. That will give her enough time to implement her approach, track relevant data, and realize an outcome.
“I want to improve my account retention rate by 5%. I will accomplish this goal by responding to all client correspondence within 48 hours. I will also follow up with clients every two weeks to ensure they are having a positive experience using our products. This goal is important because it will help our business develop a more reliable and consistent stream of income, which is a goal our management team cares about. I will start using this new approach today and aim to reach the goal by August 22, 2020.”
Tips for Writing SMART Goals
So, you’ve decided that you want to start writing a few SMART goals. You have taken the first step, which is to learn about the SMART criteria and how it works. Now you’re ready to actually start writing your own. Here are a few tips that you can use to help you write effective SMART goals:
Tip #1: Schedule check-ins
SMART goals are time-bound, which means you should meet your goals before a certain date. But, you shouldn’t measure your progress based on whether you have passed your deadline. You should be actively considering whether you are on track.
When setting SMART goals, consistently check in to see whether you are on track. If you are on track, great! If you are behind schedule, ask yourself why that is the case and come up with an approach you can use to get back on track.
Tip #2: Get feedback from coworkers
If you are setting a SMART goal for a team, you should involve your co-workers. Getting feedback from co-workers serves a few purposes.
First, doing so will allow you to make sure the goals you choose are in-fact SMART. For instance, a colleague may point out that the goal you have set is too ambitious, which means you need to work on making it more achievable.
Second, getting feedback on SMART goals will help everyone feel like part of the goal-setting process. This may help boost morale among a team, because everyone has had a say in what goals should be set, and how they should be set.
Tip #3: Make your goal visible
Don’t just keep a SMART goal in your head. Write it down. Put it on your walls. Make it as visible as possible to everyone who will be expected to meet the goal.
Making your goal visible serves as a good source of accountability. If you see your goal in front of you as you work, you know that it is something that requires your attention. Also, if your goal is placed prominently in your office, and you fall behind schedule, you’ll know that you need to work hard to get back on track.
The SMART framework provides a structured way in which you can set goals.
While the acronym may sound intimidating, this approach is simple to use. All you need to do is think about what goal you want to set and walk through it using each letter in the SMART acronym.
SMART goals are easier to achieve than other types of goals, because they are specific, actionable, and have a clear timeline established. Once you reach your first SMART goal, you’ll never want to set another vague goal in your career!