First, have a definite, clear practical ideal; a goal, an objective. Second, have the necessary means to achieve your ends; wisdom, money, materials, and methods. Third, adjust all your means to that end. Aristotle
Around this time of year, many of us have created our goals and, if we've paid attention, we may have used the popular SMART acronym of goal-setting. In the standard approach, goals are defined as "good" if they are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Bound.
These are o.k. characteristics and they have worked for decades. However, I am not sure they cover all of the elements necessary for successful goal-setting in times of great challenge. Today we need more than smart goals…we need STRONG ones.
Simple. For a goal to be useful, it has to be understandable. By “simple” I don’t mean it has to be elementary, but it needs to be focused on a single activity and outcome. Goals that have multiple parts are hard to understand and are difficult to deliver since the employee is unsure of what part of the goal is most important. A simple goal for one person may be an overly complicated goal for another person so this is a relative term based on the individual and the task at hand.
Timely. For a goal to be useful it also has to be relevant to the situation at the moment. Each goal should have an importance that is immediate. If you truly want me to make this goal a priority, I have to see how it plays a role in our success right now.
Realistic. For a goal to have its desired effect on performance, it has to be seen by the recipient of the goal as somehow possible to achieve. Unrealistic goals create demoralized troops. This is a point of negotiation. If you see the goal as realistic and your follower does not, you need to take the time to explain your thinking in a way that they can see the same reality you do. This does not mean the goal has to be easy..just possible.
Objective. For goals to be strong, they must be viewed as unbiased and real. One of the definitions of “objective” is “having a real existence.” If you want me to attempt to achieve a goal, it has to be termed in a way that it is real. “Making people happy” is not an objective goal. “Improving customer satisfaction” is.
Necessary. Useless goals are the bane of high-performance. For a follower to be motivated to achieve a goal he or she has to see the value of the goal they are pursuing. Goals need to be provided in a context of understanding so that employees understand not only the specifics of the goal, but also the goal’s importance in the bigger picture. The necessity of the goal can be a strong performance driver, especially for employees who are personally committed to the overall success of the department or organization.
Grand. Goals need to be aspirational. They need to represent performance that requires ingenuity and persistence. They need to be challenging. Remember that I suggested they are realistic, which means they are not SO grand that they are unattainable. But realistic does not mean that it’s a piece-of-cake…it just means that it is doable. Grand goals are goals that stretch us to grow in ways that mediocre goals do not. Grand goals can be exciting, if they are agreed upon by both the leader and the follower.
Whether SMART or STRONG or some combination of the two, goals that are imposed on people tend to be less successful than those that are established with people. A goal-setting session should be a dialogue…the actual establishment of the goal should be the outcome of the dialogue. “Gifting” your employees with their goals creates confusion about what you mean and what the priorities are. But a goal-setting session where each individual has the opportunity to share in the crafting of the objective can be inspirational in itself.