Joe Johnson, Ph.D.
Entrepreneur. Investor. Startup Expert.
The importance of SMART goals cannot be overstated. SMART goals can help to make the impossible possible. They help by creating a roadmap for your vision.
Not everyone is a fan of SMART goals. Some people will tell you that it’s better to aim for hard-to-reach goals and that having an uncommon goal is the only way to achieve change. Perhaps that’s how Richard Branson or Elon Musk work. According to a now-removed blog post, Richard Branson prefers to make lists, though it’s clear that both men tend to shoot for the stars.
For many business owners, however, that’s not a practical philosophy. While aiming to serve the largest possible customer segment with your amazing and unique value proposition is admirable (and utterly worthy of the effort), it’s just as important to set smaller, incremental goals along the way. This point is, I think, what the detractors of SMART goals don’t appreciate. Not all of your goals have to be SMART goals – you can still aim to be the first person to enable space tourism and dream big while utilizing SMART goals to facilitate your dreams.
For example, in the case of space tourism, the most essential element is a safe and reliable transportation system, whether it’s a shuttle, a capsule, or some other, more novel concept. Even the design and creation of such a vehicle could be divided into a single, overarching SMART goal supported by a number of SMART milestones. Whatever your vision, SMART goals allow you to break out its components and then plan and measure your progress. It’s a useful tool for everyone from high school students to the President of the United States.
What Are SMART Goals?
SMART is an easy-to-remember acronym that stands for:
- Achievable (Attainable)
- Timely (Time-bound)
Its origins are murky, but it’s played a starring role in plenty of boardrooms and meetings. It’s taught in classes and recommended by HR and management teams alike.
“Increase revenue” is a generic goal which is pretty common across the board, as are “reduce costs” and “innovate”. In order to be considered a SMART goal, though, these ideas need to be more specific. For example, “Increase revenue by 5%”, while not completely SMART, is moving in the right direction by virtue of its specificity.
In order to determine your success with respect to particular goals, they must be measurable. While increasing revenue is a measurable goal, it’s even SMARTer to track the increase over a specific period. Are we increasing revenue over the last year, the last month, or the last week? For the sake of our example, let’s say that we’re focusing on increasing revenue by 5% over the last month.
A: Achievable (also Attainable or Action-Oriented)
To determine whether our goal to increase revenue is achievable, we may want to examine traffic and conversion patterns for our online or brick-and-mortar shop to determine how many units of our product were sold in the last month. How much must we increase our sales to increase our revenue (remember the 5% goal?) and how will we achieve that increase? Will there be a PPC campaign or a coupon? How will we make our goal achievable?
While having a SMART goal sets the task of creating an achievable milestone, it isn’t necessarily easy to do. Putting an astronaut on the moon in a specified amount of time (“…before the decade was out…”) was an achievable goal. Though not everyone thought so at the time, thanks to intelligent and creative individuals who met the technical challenges, it was achieved. Don’t let precedent dictate your limits. These are your goals. In fact, goals that are more difficult to achieve (that others may view as unrealistic) are likely to be the ones with greater potential upsides. To make those goals achievable, be ready to learn and do more – more than you thought necessary, more than you thought possible, and more than your competitors are able or willing to do.
R: Realistic (also Relevant)
Similarly, “realistic” is a very subjective term. So long as you aren’t trying to fight the laws of physics or change customer opinion in a single day, there’s likely a realistic way to achieve your goal given enough time, effort, and research.
In our example, it’s entirely realistic to believe that we can increase revenue by focusing on increasing traffic and promoting our product more heavily.
T: Timely (also Time-Bound)
When do you expect to complete this goal? Depending on the degree of ambition inherent in your goal, it might be next week, next month, next year, or even 5-10 years in the future. While the scope of your goal certainly affects the length of time it will take to implement, it’s a necessary metric for measuring success.
With respect to our goal of increasing revenue, we’ll be working to do so by 5% over the previous month. We’ll focus on accomplishing this increase within the current month by boosting our traffic and visibility via PPC campaigns and coupons. At month’s end, we’ll readily see whether we were successful – though we don’t really have to wait that long. By dividing our goal into even smaller segments, we can determine whether we’re on track with sales on a daily and/or weekly basis and adjust our strategy as necessary.
SMART goals needn’t be rigid or small. They can be as flexible as you are and should grow with your business and desires.
SMART Goal Alternatives
If you aren’t a fan of SMART goals – which some people just aren’t – I’ve come across a few alternatives that have been created by entrepreneurs and educators as a response to SMART goals. While they attempt to differentiate themselves, they still maintain some similar components. Regardless, what’s most important is that you select a goal style that works with your brand and meets your needs.
HARD goals were introduced by Mark Murphy, Founder of Leadership IQ, in his book Hard Goals: The Secret to Getting From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be (2010).
HARD stands for:
Murphy argues that in order to achieve your goals, you must be passionate about them (heartfelt and animated), feel that achieving them is necessary (required), and make them sufficiently difficult that you feel a sense of achievement once you’ve completed them.
While these are useful points for goal making, unlike SMART goals, they don’t provide a timeline or a measurable outcome beyond success or failure.
Adam Kreek, Olympic gold-medal rower and entrepreneur, introduced the world to CLEAR goals. This type of goal is meant to be more agile.
CLEAR stands for:
Kreek believes that goals should be set to encourage collaboration and that they should be limited in scope, as well as in how long they’ll take to achieve. The emotional component of CLEAR goals relates to sparking passion and emotional connection with the goal. Additionally, large goals should be broken into smaller components that, when completed, comprise the large goal, making them appreciable. Plus, any CLEAR goal should be refineable with new information. After all, we aren’t working in a vacuum. In this Inc. article, Peter Economy explains why he prefers CLEAR goals to SMART goals.
QUEST, FABRIC, and PRAGMATIC
In his 2003 paper entitled “S.M.A.R.T., Q.U.E.S.T. and F.A.B.R.I.C: Are They More Than Just Acronyms?”, Paul Williams covers three goal-related acronyms and introduces another, PRAGMATIC. In addition to discussing SMART goals, he touches upon QUEST and FABRIC goals. Unfortunately, there isn’t too much information available on the latter, but some of the components may be useful for individuals in the financial (QUEST) or public (FABRIC) sectors.
QUEST stands for:
- Quantitative, Quantifiable
- Economic sensitive/Capable
According to Williams, QUEST arose from the financial sector and therefore focuses on measurement (usually in terms of dollars) or results. QUEST implies a journey from one point to another, a goal that moves the company from one state of being (or progress) to another.
FABRIC stands for:
As you can see, some of the words used here are essentially synonyms for components of SMART goals. The main difference, according to Williams, is the integrative aspect. FABRIC goals aim to highlight the goals’ interconnected nature. Williams specifically mentions law enforcement and that police goals are really part of the greater criminal justice system. Likewise, in a business environment, one department’s goals may be integrated throughout the company.
PRAGMATIC stands for:
- Relevant, reliable, reportable
PRAGMATIC goals were introduced by Williams in his 2003 paper and were created as a means of enabling the criminal justice system to set appropriate, measurable goals. It uses different components of SMART, QUEST, and FABRIC. He doesn’t provide much information in his paper with respect to its methodology, though it’s essentially an integration of synonyms for the other goal making processes.
Though initially created for the criminal justice system, by nature of its focus on relevant, achievable, and cost-effective proximate goals, PRAGMATIC goals could definitely be applied in the entrepreneurial arena. It’s unfortunate that more has not yet been written about this goal model.
Which is the Right Goal Acronym?
The right acronym is the one that works best for you. It’s the one that you can easily remember and which helps you to shape achievable goals. No acronym will select the right goals or methods of measurement for you. They can only serve as a general outline to help you think about goal setting and to provide a framework to help ensure that you consider the various aspects of goal creation.
Each entrepreneur should absorb and apply the best parts of each method to help successfully plan their endeavors. After all, the only useful goal making technique is the one that you’ll actually use.
Williams, Paul (2003, March). S.M.A.R.T., Q.U.E.S.T., and F.A.B.R.I.C: Are They More Than Just Acronyms? Paper presented at the Evaluation in Crime and Justice: Trends and Methods Conference convened by the Australian Institute of Criminology in conjunction with the Australian Bureau of Statistics and held in Canberra, Australia.
About the Author
Dr. Joe Johnson is an entrepreneur, investor, and startup expert. He is the founder and principal of GoodField Investments and the GoodField Foundation (www.GoodField.com).
Joe has a Ph.D. in Entrepreneurial Leadership and an MBA. He is the author of the upcoming book on The Science of Why Most Entrepreneurs Fail and Some Succeed.
Most importantly, he is the incredibly blessed husband of one amazing wife and father of six wonderful children. He resides in Bradenton, Florida. For more information on Dr. Johnson and his work, go to www.JoeJohnson.com.