smart goals

Is your organization SMART? No, I don’t mean do you hire smart people, make smart decisions, or invest time and money into becoming smarter, however all of those objectives fuel the kind of smart we should focus on. I’m talking about SMART goal setting and how a well-honed practice of utilizing this proven framework can and does transform organizations. Whether you’re starting, scaling, or soaring, SMART goals are critical to becoming or remaining data-driven. 

What is the SMART Goal Framework? 

Most organizations have adopted SMART goals as part of their planning and performance processes, but 9 out of 10 will likely tell you it wasn’t an easy transition. Just as becoming data-driven is an evolution, so is learning how to set goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. The key to SMART goal setting is your mindset – is your organization seeking short-term wins or long-term gains? Are you running a marathon or sprints? In reality, your long game is a series of short-term accomplishments. 

Let’s imagine you’re the Head of Engineering at a small enterprise SaaS company. You far exceeded your initial goals of launching the product into the market and securing customers, and your team grew along the way. Now you’re in the throes of planning the next iteration of the platform – new features, functionality, continuous innovation. Leadership has high expectations of you and your team and is prioritizing quality and focus. Here’s where SMART goal setting can not only keep you and your team on track, but provide meaning, purpose, and motivation for each individual as you collectively strive for success. Let’s dig a little deeper… 

Get Specific 

As part of the platform enhancements, your UI is getting an overhaul – more responsive, accessible, and visually engaging – sounds awesome, right? So if the overarching goal is a differentiated user experience (your marathon), what are your goals (mile markers) along the way? Gaining clarity on exactly what needs to be accomplished, the interdependencies, and potential blockers helps you get specific on these mile markers. In order for a goal to be specific it should outline the behaviors, results, deliverables, or actions you as the manager are seeking.  

APPLY IT: To start, we could say one of your goals on the UI revamp is for the UI/UX Team to present UX mock-ups of the top level navigation. 

Make it Measurable 

We often hear it’s difficult to quantify and measure engineering teams because so much of their work is fluid. However, as Head of Engineering you understand that a lack of measurement can result in missed dates and/or misaligned expectations. Not to mention, your team likes to see and feel progress along the way. A SMART goal is capable of being measured easily either via a tool or manually. It’s important for you and your team to understand and align on how you will know the goal has been achieved and the method for monitoring progress.  

APPLY IT: In our previous goal we’re missing the measurable component – how many mock-ups does the Leadership Team want to see? How will you track the progress of the goal? Iterating on our goal a bit further we could say The UI/UX Team will present three versions of UX mock-ups of the top level navigation in balsamiq (a prototyping and tracking tool). 

Aim for Achievable 

Rarely does anyone get excited about attempting an overly ambitious goal – in their mind, it seems impossible. Striving for challenging or just out of reach goals is one thing, but a goal that’s pulled out of thin air usually loses its wind with your team. Not to mention, “thumbing” goals rarely works out in anyone’s favor. For a goal to be achievable it must be within the employee’s span of responsibility and control. Additionally, achievement must be possible given the timeframe and resources available.  

APPLY IT: Let’s say your UI/UX Team has been using Aatomic for prototyping and tracking. Our current goal may actually be two goals in one if you intend for the team to implement and learn a new tool and complete the UX mock-ups. Beware of dependencies and lumping multiple goals together as this has the potential to frustrate you and disengage your team. Perhaps our goal needs be adjusted, but let’s consider the last few pieces of the SMART framework first. 

Establish Relevancy 

In the end, achievement of a goal should improve the organization in some way. Managers occasionally fall into the trap of creating work for their team to keep them engaged and learning, but it doesn’t necessarily benefit the broader company in a meaningful way. Establishing relevancy to the business and alignment with job functions serves to connect employees to the success of the company and drive ownership of the goal and its outcome.  

APPLY IT: As the Head of Engineering you know the UI updates are essential and you have your mandate from the Leadership Team, but let’s say your UI/UX Team of 5 consists of 2 UX Designers, 2 UI Designers, and a QA Engineer. Is the entire team set up for success in achieving this goal or is it only relevant for your 2 UX Designers when it comes to this mile marker in the marathon? 

Keep Time 

Have you ever worked on a project that never had a due date? How did you motivate yourself to continue in the absence of a deadline? Regardless of individual feelings and work styles related to timelines and due dates, leaders rarely enjoy hearing that an important goal will get done when it gets done. Making your goals time-bound gives your team an end point to strive for (and if successfully achieved, a reason for celebration). Making a goal time-bound and indicating where it falls in the prioritization of work ensures your team is focused on the right things – the things that move the business forward. 

APPLY IT: So let’s revisit our goal: The UI/UX Team will present three versions of UX mock-ups of the top level navigation in balsamiq. 

As you thought about the SMART framework you realized this is actually three goals in one so you’ll break these out. Additionally, you’ve determined that the original goal is only relevant for your two UX Designers (Alondra and Eric). You’ll need a point person for the implementation of the new tool. That said, both your UX (Alondra and Eric) and UI (Paul and Josephine) Designers should learn the new mock-up tool. Because the implementation will need to take place before the UX design work can begin, you’ll make sure the completion dates don’t overlap. Here’s our slate of goals: 

  • Josephine will lead and manage the implementation of balsamiq’s premium prototyping product including configuring the basic tracking and workflow modules by March 15th
  • Alondra, Eric, Paul, and Josephine will complete all four balsamiq introductory training modules by March 31st. 
  • Alondra and Eric will present three versions of UX mock-ups of the top level platform navigation in balsamiq to the Leadership Team by April 30th

As a leader, goal setting is an intentional process that, when done thoughtfully and backed by data, can inspire and motivate your team to achieve amazing things. Utilizing the SMART framework ensures you and your team are clear on what needs to be achieved, how it will be measured, and when a goal will be attained. This level of clarity provides your team with focus and drives engagement. When you effectively set SMART goals you turn what was once a practice into a habit – for you and your team. 

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