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  • Writer's pictureLev Mikulitski

You motivate for action but do not see results? Maybe your goals are not smart enough.

Have you ever been told to do your best? It's a goal, right? It's a form of goal setting. It turns out it's not a particularly effective goal in terms of driving people's performance. In short, most people, when asked to do their best, don't do so. And yet I hear a lot of internal speeches from executives in organizations who speak exactly that way. While language shapes reality, it is important to root out proper professional language that will translate into effective actions. So let's discuss SMART goals.

A SMART goal is a framework that has a significant body of research behind it. It's also wildly popular in organizations (I guess SMART ones). SMART is an acronym that stands for specific, measurable, agreed-upon, reasonable, and time bound. Now you can quickly see that by this framework, "do your best", is not a particularly SMART goal. It's neither specific nor measurable. There's no clear timeline attached to it. So it is time to stop using these expressions that have nothing to do with effectiveness.

So let’s start with a hypothetical goal. Say I’m asking you to increase sales. Is this a SMART goal? And if it is not a SMART goal, how can we make it smarter? Well, we could start, for example, by making this goal more specific. Instead of asking you to increase sales in general, I can ask you to increase online sales for a certain group of accounts, say in the top five accounts. I can also make this goal more measurable. So for example, I can say increase sales by 15% compared to sales in the third quarter of last year. I also hope that we would have a discussion about increasing sales by that particular number. In addition to setting specific and measurable goals, these goals need to be agreed upon. So you and I need to have a discussion, and make sure that we are on the same page when it comes to these goals.

By the way, goals are most effective when you are able to secure people's public commitment to those goals. We also want to make sure that the goals we set for people are reasonable. Make sure that people have the necessary skills to reach a particular sales goal. If they don't, you might want to provide necessary mentorship, support and training to make sure that they view these goals as reasonable.

I often get the question of how to think about what a reasonable goal is. What are the benchmarks? Well you can look at sales statistics for a given geography, for a given region, for a given type of customers. You can adjust these sales statistics by the tenure of a given employee. How experienced are they? You can look at their personal sales records over the last couple of years, for example. All those could be valuable inputs into understanding what is a reasonable goal. Also make sure that goals are time bound, there's a particular timeline attached to the accomplishment of a given goal.

It's tempting for us to put really short fuses in our goals, to have really tight deadlines. But think about this in the context of setting really challenging, really aggressive stretch goals. Short timelines, yes they can stimulate more intense cooperative experiences, we tend to work harder for a unit of time, but they can also push people toward unethical behavior. They can increase dissatisfaction. Now, in some situations it may be unavoidable, where we have to set goals with very strict deadlines. If that's the case, and you can do so, help your team anticipate those deadlines. So for example, tell your people, look, we have an important project coming up at the end of the month. I'm really counting on you then. Perhaps even give them a day off in anticipation of this very tough deadline. Now once you set that deadline and the team starts working on it, be a role model.

The most demotivating thing you can do for your team is you set this tough deadline, and the next thing your team sees is you strolling out of your office with a gold bag in hand. And make sure to reward your teammates accordingly after the accomplishment of those goals.

I mentioned to you at the beginning of this article that SMART goals framework is very popular among many, many organizations. In fact, I would be hard-pressed to think of an organization that's not using a SMART goal framework in some shape or form. Take Amazon, for example. Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, is personally overseeing over 400 goals, and they’re all in the SMART goal framework.

In conclusion, it is important to be sensitive to the language you use when you want to motivate action effectively. This is very significant when you are setting goals and especially targeting sales or growth. The people you manage are your most valuable resource in achieving growth goals and therefore the above resource should be managed with uncompromising skill including language through which you communicate.

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