The difference between an ordinary objective – one we might set at the start of the year, or of the week, and a SMART Objective is that SMART Objectives satisfy certain criteria in the way they are set. The SMART criteria have been around since the 1980s and have lasted and developed because of their power to make goal-setting activities much more precise and effective.
SMART is an acronym. It stands for:
S - Specific
M - Measurable
A - Achievable
R - Relevant
T - Time-Bound
These five terms are not general descriptors, but criteria. Each one sets out a rubric for how an objective must be formulated to have the rigor required to be a solid business or personal aim. Let's look at each in more detail:
The “specific” part of an objective tells us what will be done in concrete terms. It identifies the specific actions that will result. In some cases it is appropriate to indicate how the action will be implemented (e.g., something will be published, a payment will be made, a contract signed). Verbs that do not work well for setting Specific objectives are: coordinate, partner, support, facilitate. These are vague and difficult to measure. On the other hand, verbs such as provide, train, publish, say, confirm, close, or purchase indicate clearly what will be done.
Bad Example: “I want to really raise awareness for the new product within our base”
Good Example: "I want to close one contract with a dental office by the end of the week”
There are many ways you might raise awareness. By clearly defining that awareness raising means "close one contract with a dental office", this objective just got a lot more specific.
Measurable implies quantitative – not qualitative – assessment of the objective. Look for the ability to count or otherwise quantify an activity or its results.
Bad Example: "I want a lot more people to reply to my emails"
Good Example: "By 1 July, I want to have 20 new deals at “proposal sent” stage in our CRM."
"A lot more people" isn't measurable, but anyone can count to 20!
Achievable refers to two things:
That an objective can be doable in the proposed time frame with the available resources, appropriately limited in scope, and within the objective-setter’s control and influence.
That it is not ridiculously easy or hard.
Sometimes, specifying an expected level of achievement can be tricky. To guide yourself, look at past success and failure with similar objectives, and consult with colleagues and stakeholders about their experiences.
Bad Example: "Have conversations with 2,000 prospects per week" OR "Have conversations with 2 prospects per week"
Good Example: "Have conversations with 20 prospects per week"
For most sales professionals, having conversations with 2,000 prospects per week probably is an overly aggressive target, while having conversations with 2 prospects per week is probably way too easy to achieve. The idea is to set a target which is aggressive, but still within the realm of possibility.
Relevance as a criteria ensures that your objective will have an effect on the larger strategy. Relevant relates to the relationship between the objective and the overall goals. In our experience, objectives that, when met, don’t ultimately help you get to where you’re aiming, are suffering from a lack of relevancy.
Bad Example: "Get 3 prospects to 'Like' my LinkedIn post this week"
Good Example: "Schedule product demos with 3 prospects this week"
LinkedIn 'likes' probably won't help a sales professional close more deals. It's much more likely that scheduling product demos would help them achieve the desired outcome - making sales.
When will this objective be accomplished? A specified and reasonable time frame should be incorporated into the objective statement. This should take into consideration the environment in which the change must be achieved, the scope of the change expected, and how it fits into the overall work plan.
Bad Example: "We really should ______ at some point in Q2."
Good Example: "By the end of this meeting, we will..." OR "By December 1, 2021, I will..."
If there's not a defined timeline for an objective, it doesn't meet the SMART criteria. It's as simple as that.
In our experience, the great value of SMART criteria is that is guides us how to set objectives. It cannot tell you which objectives to set, but it will ensure that once you determine which objectives are worthwhile you set them in a way that allows you, and your colleagues to be crystal clear on what they are, and whether you’ve met them.