Setting business goals isn’t just about having a plan; it’s about bringing greater value to practically all aspects of your organisation. In fact, there has been plenty of research undertaken in regard to business goals, and many studies arrive at the same conclusion: there are benefits to being clear on what it is you hope to achieve.
But there’s a problem. That problem is that while businesses may understand the importance of setting goals, they don’t quite know how to set them in a way that will prove to be effective. The ‘how’ of goal setting is often overlooked, with many businesses looking at vague aims rather than clear end results. The good news is that it’s actually quite easy to set great business goals… you just have to think SMART.
Many organisations are discussing SMART goals right now, especially in terms of making it easier to generate a strong and achievable plan of action for both the short and long term future of the business. But what exactly do businesses mean by ‘SMART’, and how can the concept be applied to goal setting?
SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time Bound, and together these 5 unique qualities form the basis of a successful business goal. Let’s explore what these qualities mean:
- Specific: This is about forgoing vagueness and uncertainty in favour of being more precise. The more precise and specific a goal is, the easier it is to follow the right path towards success.
- Measurable: It should be clear to determine when a goal has been achieved. Every good business goal is connected to a metric that can indicate when or if a specific goal has been met.
- Achievable: Don’t go chasing unicorns; don’t go chasing dreams that the business will be unlikely to achieve. It’s important to aim big, but also keep one foot firmly rooted in reality.
- Relevant: What’s right for one business may not be right for another. Business goals should be individual to each and every business, ensuring that it is an aim relevant to the organisation.
- Time Bound: Open-ended business goals don’t spark fire; they don’t create any sense of urgency to motivate and inspire. Try to ensure that every business goal is attached to a timeframe.
Setting SMART goals
Although it’s easy to understand what SMART stands for, and understand what the SMART qualities mean, it is more challenging to understand how to set business goals that are SMART-approved.
Let’s take a look at a few examples of business goals:
A: Expand client base to grow and develop the company and become the best business in the region.
B: Expand client base by targeting women aged between 25-40 in the Chicago area to create new opportunities to further develop existing products. Improve online visibility to become one of the highest ranking businesses on Google in the female sportswear industry within the next 12 months.
From these examples, it’s clear that A is a poor example of a business goal, while B is much better. That’s because we can see each of the 5 SMART qualities within the second example, but not in the first.
Even when SMART is understood, when it comes to setting business goals it can be remarkably easy to veer off track. Especially as new opportunities for growth and development begin to arise, it can be simple to lose sight of the SMART qualities, and the overall aims and goals for the organisation.
It’s important to try and keep your new business goals SMART all throughout the year. Using the example we discussed above, here are some ideas for keeping the goal SMART using each of the 5 qualities:
- Specific: ‘Expand client base by targeting women aged 25-40 in the Chicago area’
So your business is clear on which demographic it needs to target in order to achieve its goal, but it’s important to ask how you’re going to achieve this. What methods will be used to attract new customers that fit the right persona? One effective way would be to focus on content marketing, adding in some evergreen content to increase organic traffic alongside time-sensitive content such as news items.
- Measurable: ‘Improve online visibility’
Many businesses want to improve online visibility during the digital era, but how can this be measured? To stay SMART, it is essential to take some time to determine what metrics you will be using to measure your rate of success and ensure you’re heading in the right direction. It may be that you’ll focus on website traffic from search engines, or clickthrough rate, or perhaps social mentions or online enquiries.
- Achievable: ‘Become one of the highest ranking local businesses’
This is SMART because it doesn’t attempt the impossible; it doesn’t mention becoming THE highest ranking business, for example. But in order to keep it SMART, it’s essential to understand what measures need to be taken to ensure that the goal is achievable. For example, Google raking won’t improve without a strong focus on SEO, such as link building and content creation with keywords and phrases.
- Relevant: ‘In the female sportswear industry’
No two organisations are the same, so there is often little value in spending the time and the resources trying to compete with businesses in unrelated sectors. To keep your new year business goal SMART, focus on your direct competitors, instead of the industry as a whole. What are your competitors doing to succeed? Who are they hiring and what skills are they taking onboard? Where are they advertising?
- Time Bound: ‘Within the next 12 months’
Having a time scale is important in terms of overall planning, and it helps to split your ultimate goal down into more manageable tasks that will be completed at this pre-planned time. To stay SMART, it may be helpful to break down this 12 month period into smaller chunks. This is a great way of performing ‘trial and error’, reviewing your goal as you go along and making any changes as deemed necessary.
Deriving Value from Business Goals
Setting business goals may sound simple, but it’s actually a very tricky area to navigate. Some organisations will view the setting of the goals themselves as the most important aspect, but it’s more about setting the right type of goals. Goals that are vague, unattainable, or not relevant to the business — goals that are not SMART — can create more hindrance to a company than not setting any goals at all.
Business goals should be smart, in every sense of the word. They should make sense to each individual business, and they should follow the concept of SMART; creating valuable business goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound in order to arrive at the right destination.