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Right on Target

Having the humility to identify areas of imperfection can be disheartening at first, but doing so opens the door to positive, lasting change.

How to use SMART Goals in Business

Imagine how pointless a game of baseball would be if there were no bases or lines on the playing field. No matter how much skill or athletic prowess the players might possess, it would all be a lot of wasted effort without the structure that gives guidance as to where to bat the ball toward or what direction to run.

Or maybe a better analogy would be for an archer to go out into a meadow and randomly shoot arrows into whatever direction came to mind. They might all have a straight trajectory and travel with incredible speed, but it takes the presence of a target for any of it to make sense. Zeroing in on the bullseye now gives the archer a focal point to concentrate on, and success can now be gauged by whether or not the arrows find their mark.

In the context of our businesses, sometimes it can seem that we are expending great energy without ever establishing what exactly it is we’re aiming for. “Success” might seem like a great target, but it’s so clichéd and broad in scope that we’re likely to never really accomplish anything. As with the archer, the entrepreneur needs to have a clearly identified goal, something to aim for, in order to do more than simply go through the motions.

When it comes time to start thinking about business goals, there are a variety of approaches to take. One of the most commonly utilized methodologies embraces what are known as SMART goals. This philosophy of goal setting was created in 1981 by George Doran, Arthur Miller, and James Cunningham. Although there are sometimes a few variations, more often than not this acronym is recognized to stand for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Establishing a goal within these parameters will generally provide a solid platform for taking the necessary steps toward reaching it, but this approach can also be a bit too generic unless you can find practical ways to connect it to the specific nature of your business.

The precepts embodied in the SMART concept need to ultimately be tied directly to you, to what you’re trying to do, and what you hope to accomplish. This is sometimes easier said than done, as many entrepreneurs get blindsided by the demands of just going about their business each day. Goal setting is a key component to growing your business, but, in the throes of everything associated with daily operations, it can seem downright overwhelming to tack on the additional responsibility of selecting targets to aim for. Everything in the SMART methodology can be applied to whatever you’re striving for, but there are other aspects of goal setting that are worth discussing as well.

One of the first things to look at is the category of your goal. Depending on the catalyst that drove you to establish it in the first place, a goal will generally fall into the categories of either “developmental” or “corrective”. Developmental goals are about harnessing the impetus to grow your company by exploring new things or branching into previously uncharted territory. These tend to be visionary goals and require the entrepreneur to look well beyond the confines of what’s already been established and whatever is the status quo for how the business operates. This type of goal is also usually the one that carries risk, possibly a significant amount of risk, and is therefore not to be lightly entertained. Development for a business inevitably means growing pains, so establishing goals in this sphere requires the ability to accept that the associated growth isn’t likely to be had without cost.

Coming from an altogether different vantage point are corrective goals. These can seem a lot less exciting and motivating, but these really require a disciplined approach to be successfully leveraged. Corrective goals address problems, deficiencies, or inefficiencies that are serving as obstacles to basic daily operations. Establishing this type of goal requires first that the business owner address the reality that not everything within the company is running at peak performance. Having the humility to identify areas of imperfection can be disheartening at first, but doing so opens the door to positive, lasting change. Creating a goal to overcome something subpar in the operations of your business might seem utilitarian in and of itself, but the good news is that bringing a successful resolution to the problem then opens the door for you to engage in developmental goal setting.

There are certainly exceptions, but developmental goals generally tend to be more external, or client/customer facing, and corrective goals tend to be internal, or colleague-facing. Goals will ultimately need to be crafted from the perspective of how they will impact either those that you work with or those that you serve. Enthusiasm for the pursuit of a goal needs to exist irrespective the allure of the goal itself. By their very nature, external goals will tend to be a lot more inspiring, as they’re usually tied to the idea of stepping into new areas that will help us to reach more clients or customers, or to have greater visibility in the market sphere in which we operate.

Internal goals tend to carry much less of the “wow factor”, as they often are put into place to help individual employees to improve their job performance, or perhaps to make an overall course correction for the business as a whole. Another seeming drawback is that internal goals aren’t as rewarding as external ones because they’re largely invisible to those outside of the organization. And yet it’s the internal goals that are oftentimes the most critical ones to establish, as there’s little chance for substantial growth within the company if there are ongoing internal issues that never get addressed. Establishing an internal goal can seem like drudgery, but doing so is the sign of a mature organization that takes its entire operating structure very seriously.

Ultimately, any goals that you set need to align with the mission and vision of the organization at large. Your mission is what prompted you to start the business in the first place – it’s what you invest time, energy, and effort into each day in order to provide goods or services to others.

Your vision is the projection of what you’re doing now into a future timeframe – be that six months or five years from now – that will be a logical outgrowth of you consistently fulfilling your mission during each day that you operate. A healthy organization will understand the necessity of crafting both internal and external goals and will be vigilant to ensure that both types remain firmly on track.

The term “deliverable” might sound like just a corporate buzzword, but deliverables are practical items that you need to anchor your goals to, whether they’re internal or external. At its most basic level, a deliverable is something that you committed to when you opted to start a business. It’s really about following through on the promise you’ve made to your clients and customers – the promise of providing specific goods or services in a clearly-defined timeframe. Well-thought-out, practical goals always have to be connected to the very essence of what “doing business” looks like for you. Part of this involves ensuring that goals aren’t merely hypotheticals floating around somewhere out there, but rather attainable pursuits tied to the real world.

The fact that internal goals tend to be more about the maintenance of your operations than the flourishing and further outreach of the company means that they sometimes get overlooked. But establishing internal goals is still crucial to the success of the business, and they’re often times more tightly focused because they’re intended to correct an existing issue. For example, let’s say that you have a team member whose responsibilities include compiling a report on Thursdays at 2:00 pm, but who continues to miss the deadline due to reviewing business contracts received throughout the earlier part of the week. The first step in setting a goal is to determine if the workload the team member is dealing with is actually a realistic one. If it is, then the goal needs to be structured within the framework of helping the employee to approach their job tasks differently, with more emphasis being placed on gauging what they need to accomplish on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. A practical goal for the team member might be to do a preliminary review of each business contract on the day it’s received, without negatively impacting other job responsibilities. This will provide the employee with a “jump start” on contract review, rather than waiting until Thursday to begin the process for everything received at that point in the week.

Generally, external goals will be established in more of a proactive manner, as opposed to the reactive goal setting that can sometimes be associated with internal goals. An external goal can also be one that’s established jointly with another entity, such as a business or organization that you collaborate or partner with in the community. External goals can encompass the greater growth and impact of your business in terms of market visibility, client or customer reach, or even a relocation of or addition to your “brick and mortar” establishment.

Suppose that your company sells programmable, digital signs for businesses to display in their windows, showing hours of operation, services or product offerings, and other important information. An example of an external goal might be born out of having your sales team explore different areas of the local business district to notate the number of digital signs in businesses versus standard signage. Based on your findings, you might establish a goal of contacting 75% of the businesses without digital signs on a particular street for the purpose of demonstrating the signs you sell. It’s imperative that careful research takes place before creating that type of goal. Regardless of what you’re trying to do, in-depth information gathering will always be a helpful first step in determining what’s realistic for you to undertake.

One of the most balancing factors to always keep in mind is that goals aren’t necessarily carved in stone, nor should they be. A goal may be well thought out and worth pursuing, but there can sometimes be unforeseen influencing factors that require the parameters to be adjusted. Even if you establish a goal with the best information available to you at that moment, the timeframe you originally determined might no longer be reasonable. Allow enough flexibility in your goals to accommodate unplanned variables and adapt what you initially worked out to fit the new parameters you’re working in.

It’s also worth noting that the best goals are developed collaboratively. Unless your business is a sole proprietorship, it’s always best to get the input of others as you define goals. You may have great experience and expertise with whatever area the goal addresses, but it’s always beneficial to glean the input of someone outside of your thought process. An external perspective can help to identify aspects of the goal that you didn’t consider, or to point toward potential hindrances that you might not have anticipated when developing the goal. A collaborative approach also carries with it the benefit of helping your team members to be truly connected to the decision making that shapes the direction of the business.

As much as is practical, try to identify all the specifics of whatever it is you’re pursuing when you set a goal. If it’s too vague, you have little chance of reaching the goal in the face of unexpected complications that might come up. Depending on the complexity of what you’re hoping to accomplish, it’s also crucial to document what needs to occur logistically as you move toward the fulfillment of the goal. Detailed documentation also provides your employees with one distinct reference source for everything pertaining to the specific efforts that they’ll need to put forth.

It’s also important to remember that not all goals are equally important. A goal related to business growth might seem crucial, but it may fall into the #2 slot if you have serious operational issues that need to be addressed first. Although it’s completely valid to pursue everything you can to develop the business, it’ll all be for nothing if you have procedural breakdowns that are negatively impacting each work day. This is another area where it can be incredibly helpful to get the input of others, as it might be difficult for you to prioritize a goal without the context that someone else’s perspective can provide.

It’s also quite possible that you might be pursuing the right goal at the wrong time. You may very well end up crafting a goal that has tremendous merit, just not right now. You might be reaching for something that isn’t quite practical given where your business currently finds itself, but that would definitely be worth revisiting a year from now when you’ve more firmly established your presence in the local marketplace. Don’t dismiss an idea if it doesn’t seem quite right for today – one of the great benefits of brainstorming is that you can keep those concepts you create in a “holding file” for future consideration. All the goals of your business have to be relevant to where you are now and where you’re likely to be tomorrow, so don’t despair if a seemingly good idea doesn’t quite fit – its time may still come.

Goals are the lifeblood of any thriving business. Without them, you’ll amble along, so wrapped up in the pressures of daily operations that you’ll never have anything to work toward. Unfulfilled goals can certainly bring frustration, but even those that don’t materialize can serve as benchmarks for how you’re progressing as a business. If you’re willing to invest in identifying and establishing them, goals can help to frame all of your efforts in a way that points you in the right direction and always keeps moving you forward..


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