One of the greatest challenges we all face in either our business or private lives relates to consistently getting things done.

Whether you call them goals, objectives, plans or New Year’s Resolutions -- they are key to progress. Setting goals properly is the key to their accomplishment. The largest shortcoming I have run across and dealt with revolves around inadequate goal setting. You know the saying, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.”

What does that mean, setting goals properly? You want to set a goal that has enough challenge to be worth pursuing, but not totally beyond reach. A goal set too aggressively can feel like it has become a club that hits us over the head every time we check our progress in attaining the goal.

So, we want to stretch ourselves or our organization -- a well-designed “stretch” goal will result in progress, even if we don’t achieve it perfectly -- but we don’t want to tear our muscles off the bones by reaching too far.

There is a long-standing process to assist us with goal setting. It is called the SMART goal-setting process. A well-created goal carries the components of the SMART process. Its components are often attributed to management guru Peter Drucker’s “Management by Objectives” concept. The first known use of the term was in the November 1981 issue of Management Review by George T. Doran (mindtools.com). So, what does SMART stand for?

  • S – Specific

  • M – Measurable

  • A – Achievable

  • R – Relevant

  • T – Time-bound

Professor Robert S. Rubin (Saint Louis University) wrote about SMART in an article for The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology. He stated that SMART has come to mean different things to different people … (mindtools.com). He has suggested adding an E, for Evaluated and R, for Reviewed to establish SMARTER goals.

Let’s look at the details (guided by Paul J. Meyer, businessman, author and founder of Success Motivation International, in a book he authored) of the SMART attributes. Specific involves some of the what, why, who, where questions. What do we want to accomplish? Why is it important? Who needs to be involved? What resources are present to make use of or What limits or constraints need to be considered?

Measurable is a key attribute. This is perhaps the most common shortcoming. A football coach named Lombardi once said, “If you’re not keeping score, you’re just practicing.” We want to know what the accomplished goal will look like. How many? How much? Measured in dollars, units, percentages, these help us know how far we have come or how far we have yet to go.

Achievable relates to the discussion above. Can we get this goal accomplished given resources available to us or constraints that are present in the pursuit?

Relevant asks us to evaluate the value of the goal as well as asking whether this is the right time to pursue it. Is the goal aligned with my/our other goals? Am I the right person or are we the right team to be working on it?

Finally, we need to put a time frame in place. It helps us with our discipline. For larger projects we may need to establish interim deadlines to break the task into more bite-size pieces or defining the order in which steps need to occur. A Gantt Chart is a well- established and easy-to-prepare tool that can act as a roadmap and communication facilitator for us or our teams as to what needs to happen when.

As to the E and the R suggested, it is valuable to conduct a “postmortem” at the end of a project to review what we learned, and what we might do differently on the next project.

Adaptability is a key characteristic for growth and success. Goal setting, like other skills can be improved with practice. Use the SMART attributes to set them, and evaluate the projects after the fact for what can be learned. In this situation, being a “smartee” is definitely a good thing.

“In the absence of clearly defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily acts of trivia.”– Author Unknown

If you are interested in exploring a mentoring relationship, or would like to know more about becoming a SCORE mentor, contact the Brainerd Lakes Office of SCORE, at Central Lakes College, at 218-855-8151, or the Central Minnesota Chapter of SCORE, at St. Cloud State University, at central.mn@scorevolunteer.org, or 320-240-1332; website: centralminnesota.score.org.

This is a continuation of regular SCORE-contributed columns in the Brainerd Dispatch. If you have specific topics or questions you would like to see addressed, please submit them to Renee Richardson, managing editor, at 281-855-5852 or renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com.