The Minimalist Guide to S.M.A.R.T. Goals

Cole Harmonson

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About seven years after I started Far West Capital, I was looking to take my entrepreneurial game to another level. In particular, I wanted to more successfully create accountability and structure around setting goals. So about three years ago, I started working with an executive coach. Together, we started working on defining my goals S.M.A.R.T.(ly), and a lot of things shifted for me.

S.M.A.R.T. goals isn’t a new concept. It’s an acronym that’s been around for decades and, while opinions vary, most will agree that this approach began either (conceptually) with George Doran’s contribution to Management Review, or were specifically identified in Hersey and Blandchard’s Management of Organizational Behavior. It’s been applied to entrepreneurs, established businesses (start-ups to enterprise-level), designing a better college experience, fostering employee social media adoption, healthcare, general fitness, and countless others.

S.M.A.R.T. stands for:

S: Specific, Simple
M: Measurable, Meaningful to you
A: As if now, Achievable, Actionable
R: Relevant, Realistic, Responsible (Ecological)
T: Timed, Toward what you want

At Far West Capital, we’ve customized the S.M.A.R.T.  acronym to include “Responsible.” In our case, “relevant and realistic” are criteria mapped to business or revenue goals, and both are an important part of our conversation. Equally important, however, is to understand how those goals reflect and impact our larger mission of conscious capitalism, both as citizens of our fields and the larger world in which we live.

And while your mission, metrics, and responsibilities are almost certainly different from ours, I very much invite you to incorporate “Responsible” into your goals. I guarantee they’ll make a difference in every level of your organization – from the executive suite on down.

How Goal-Setting Impacts Your Business

One of the ways we create a goal-setting culture is through the use of a great tool called Khorus that helps teams prioritize, communicate, and think about the future – all through a system that equips the organization with specific, measurable goals.

Each Sunday, sometimes while grumbling over the Times crossword, I check in with Khorus to review where we stand on the initiatives we have in the pipeline as well as broader, company-wide projects.

And I’m not alone. Whether it’s an employee in the Portfolio team or someone in Operational Excellence, every person in the organization delivers a weekly Red-Green-Yellow report for the initiatives they’re working on that maps to S.M.A.R.T. Goals. This approach helps in many ways, but a few top-of-mind examples include:

  • Clarity. I’ve read that vague goals are easily ignored or forgotten. This approach ensures that all goals are specific and free of ambiguity and confusion.
  • Alignment. When everyone is clear on responsibilities and accountability, redundancies are eliminated and each person can focus on their most pertinent goals.
  • Improved performance. Clear and consistent feedback is much, much easier when you have specific goals you can tie that information to. Those goals, and the corresponding results, creates a clear, actionable picture to use in evaluations.

This process also provides fast access to information, insights, wins, or roadblocks for every goal we’ve identified that I then address in a weekly internal email to the team. You know, after I’ve figured out a three-letter word for a Turkish honorific title. (It’s “Aga”, just in case you’re interested.)

HubSpot loves the S.M.A.R.T. goal framework, and reports that “users that have the most success identify their long term marketing goals.” Inc. Magazine isn’t a fan. They recently reported that S.M.A.R.T. goals are a tad archaic and fail to address how business has changed, particularly when examining the “faster, more agile environment” most businesses now operate within.  

By all means, use what works best for you and your team. For Far West Capital, S.M.A.R.T. Goals create visibility into our organizational goals that fosters an environment of transparency, lack of ambiguity, and overall accountability; but also provides the opportunity to encourage, coach, and offer the tools and resources individuals need to succeed – personally, for our company, and for our clients.

I’m so proud of our team and our commitment to each other and our clients. This commitment has led not only to great things for both groups, it’s actually resulted in a win that I’m equally proud of. A little more than a week ago, Far West Capital was one of the winners for the Austin Business Journal’s 2016 Best Places to Work.

There’s no doubt in my mind that using a clear goal-setting strategy results in accountability to each other. That accountability also put us all in the perfect place to win together.

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