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SMART Goals: How to Create and Measure Accountability

February 12, 2021 Jeff Lesher


I’ve been at this organizational performance thing for a while, and (as in everything) setting SMART goals remains among the greatest struggles. Many companies and their leaders wrestle with the Three Bears approach to goal setting with goals being too general, too specific, and all-too-rarely just right. Even when we get the goal right, they tend to lack connection to each other and to the over-arching intent of the organization.

Part of the challenge is our attraction to using clichés and buzzwords instead of helpfully descriptive language. Check out Weird Al Yankovic’s take on buzzwords and then check your look in the mirror. We all do it (even the best of us) … and we need to do it less.

Let’s review a couple of SMART goal setting basics many of us have heard and likely applied. Our opportunity is to apply them consistently and a little bit better. In addition, I’m going to share a couple ideas about goals that may not be immediately apparent but can help you elevate the impact of creating meaningful, connected goals. If nothing else, remember a goal is an outcome reached with specified regularity, or by a certain time, through a process for a specific reason.

Woman looking at a glass wall with post-it notes stuck on it

What are SMART Goals?

At the strategic level, goals should be somewhat SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound), while remaining broad enough to allow for teams and their people to develop approaches to contribute to the strategic goal’s realization.

SMART Goal Example

“We will achieve 20% revenue growth through our commitment to over-delivering in every client relationship” reflects being specific without being too prescriptive. The inclusion of the reference to over-delivering connects people to the thematic intent of the company.

How to align your SMART Goals

I’m going to ask you to consider distilling the most imperative outcomes for your year to be a success into no more than three strategic level goals. Simplistically, they might address profitability, growth (size, revenue, clients), and some type of client satisfaction, service, or market share dimension.

Group of employees gathered around a table working together

Aligned Individual and Business Goals

People need to be guided to recognize how their areas of responsibility and the work they do contribute to the company-wide objectives. By engaging them with SMART goals and a deep understanding of overarching missions, you tap into their creativity and knowledge of what’s possible and how to make it so. People will buy into your goals that much more when they have a hand in crafting them.

In addition to thinking about how one’s work rolls up, it’s helpful for people to discover the interdependencies of colleagues’ and other teams’ work and share information and otherwise support each other. This revealing of the “dots” of expectation, and the connection of these dots is powerful.

A final point on goals connection is all the stuff you’re required to do in your role (the “what”), along with the values (the “how”) are the recipe for goal achievement, NOT goals in and of themselves. If you have more than about 5 goals (which I’d suggest is about two too many), the chances are pretty good a number of those goals really are tasks – not goals. A goal is an outcome via a process for a specific reason.

Goals are a marketing pitch of sorts to your team. This is what we get to do … and if we do enough of it, well enough, here’s what we can create. Even better, as a leader, I’m inviting all of my colleagues to come up with ways you can help us best pursue and accomplish what we intend. You get to infuse those approaches with what interests you, what you’re best at, and what you believe to be most effective.

Two pairs of hands pointing at some papers on a table

Together, we’re a force to be reckoned with. We’re people who know what we want, know how to get it, and know it when we get there. We know all this because we defined it in our goals. Goals, actually, are not delivered by storks (surprise!); goals are crafted by people in relationships built on shared passions and desired impact.

Goals are meaningful; they reflect what’s important to us. Goals provide clarity by vanquishing inconsistencies that arise when we haven’t actively agreed to a precise course of action. Goals are cool, because they inspire us, challenge us, guide us, and allow us to experience the comfort of knowing where we are along the way, and the exhilaration of breaking the tape at the finish line. In the afterglow of that victory, we sign up for what’s next.

Are you ready to shift?

Your unfair advantage is hiding in plain sight: your high performers. So how do you take the actions, decisions, and behaviors of your A players and replicate them across your organization? Ready to put the right people in the right roles? Join Joe Mechlinski, engaging speaker, NYT bestselling author and CEO of SHIFT, for a masterclass-style high performance webinar. Joe will share the same actionable business solutions he uses with his own clients to push the performance curve within your organization.

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