Lot’s of people these days are familiar with SMART goals – S for specific, M for Measurable, A for Achievable, R for Realistic and T for Timebound. In fact, entire training sessions lasting for days revolve around how to make SMART objectives. Gee whiz! Now that we are all familiar with the acronym, it would seem we can all go ahead and set goals more effectively. But the reality as we have all experienced is very different. Many goals we set are never realized (like the New Year fantasies on personal change) because we focus too much on the outcome, not the process . Ninety times out of a hundred, this is a setup for failure…
Let’s look at some typical goals.
For example, in cricket, your objective or goal may be to win a cricket match.
Or in another instance (in a sales environment), you set yourself the goal of becoming the top salesman in the company.
Are these good goals to have? Sure. Do these goals meet the SMART criteria? Yes, pretty much, although you could make the sales goal a bit more specific by changing the goal to “becoming the top salesman in the company by securing at least 10 new contracts within the next 12 months“. Better, but will this assist any better in securing the actual objective?
The point is, does formulating goals in a SMART way or in some other articulate way make them more achievable? I think not.
You can start to make goals somewhat more realizable if you try to focus on the process and the tasks that lead to the outcome, rather than the outcome itself. The outcome is a function of things within your control and those outside your control.
By focusing your attention on things within your control, you stand a better chance of getting what you want.
Let’s look at the cricket example again. The things within your control are:
• How well you prepare the team and how much you practice
• How good your fielding is to control the other side’s scoring
• How fit you and your team mates are just before the game
• How well you all communicate and work together as a team
But for every factor within your control, there were several that are not in your control. For example:
• How experienced and well prepared your competition is
• How good their fielding is
• How the umpires decide during the game
• How well the pitch corresponds to your team’s strengths
So if your goal is stated as winning the game, then this is commendable but this is an “outcome” that depends on not just the factors in your control but also the factors outside your control. This is a recipe for over-promising and under-delivering.
Desire the Outcome but Focus on the Process/Task
Goals should rarely be focused solely on the outcome. They should be based on the tasks and the process that will lead to success, rather than the hope that success will come.
Armed with this new insight, back to the cricket game. Here are the possible goals you might want to look at now:
• Practice twice as hard as you usually do
• Work on the fielding particularly the catches
• Arrange workout and fitness sessions at least 2 weeks in advance
• Run a team building program
• Watch a video of how the other team plays
Let’s take the other other example from professional sales. If your goal is to be “the top salesperson in the firm within the next 12 months” – then you are creating goals that are dependent on some things that you cannot guarantee or control. A better stated more finite goal might be to “generate 5-6 new leads every week” – maybe also to “ensure a follow up note after every sales call” and so on. Think about it – while this approach does not guarantee success, you advance closer to the goal nonetheless.
A side benefit of this focus on the process/tasks that lead to your goal is that you start to think about the implementation plan – what you’ll do now, what next, short-term objectives, longer term results..
Try this new approach. Who knows, maybe you’ll discover your resolve once again!