Should I be S.M.A.R.T.?

With the first quarter of 2017 coming to an end, I’m beginning to focus on goals for Q2.

Setting professional objectives can be a daunting task. It’s not easy to come up with objectives that go hand-in-hand with your role and personal development. I’ve been in this position many times in my career and have never found it (and still don’t find it) easy.

Although it can be tough to come up with objectives, it’s probably best not to spend three days scratching your head wondering what on Earth you want to achieve.

Let’s dive in!

Should I set my objectives or should my manager do it?

Some organizations advocate the waterfall process, where employees are given objectives that align with the objectives of their superiors. This may work in certain organizations, although I think the top-to-bottom method of goal-setting can quickly lead to disengagement and be easily abused. I’ve seen managers impose extremely challenging objectives on their staff without them understanding why or having a say in things, then treat less-than-stellar results as an excuse to give poor ratings as part of a bell curve. Not only is this ineffective, it’s indicative of a poor company culture.

Personally, I believe employees should establish and drive their own goals. Managers should be on hand to give direction, suggestions, and assistance where necessary, but the person contributing to the goal should have a vested interest in their own achievement. Be the change you seek for yourself and the organization!


Should I align my objectives with company goals?

If you believe in the company and its direction, then you should want to work on a goal that helps both you and the company!

When an organization aligns objectives systematically from top down, it doesn’t allow much wiggle room for potential changes in managers or the goalposts of objectives higher up in the organization. In the current business sphere, the market or the direction of an organization can change in an instant – and the goals we set should be able to shift with it. Our engineers develop the Small Improvements tool with an agile methodology, so we also create our goals with an agile mindset.

To come up with a goal that contributes to the overall health and growth of the business, I consider the “greater good” of the company. In my opinion, overarching company goals should aim to give employees a good sense of direction, but not chain them to micro-details.

Even a personal goal can benefit the company, and I will illustrate how (with a musical objective) below.

Should I be S.M.A.R.T. in coming up with my objectives?

At previous companies, I was taught to use the S.M.A.R.T. methodology to create objectives. Being S.M.A.R.T. means picking goals that correspond to the following criteria:

Specific – Is your objective clear to you and your team? Are the parameters of what you want to accomplish well-defined?

Measurable – How do you define the success of the objective? How do you know when you’ve accomplished it?

Achievable – Is your objective realistic? Do you have the necessary resources to attain the it?

Relevant – Does your objective contribute to your role and the big picture?

Time-based – When should your objective be accomplished?

Sure, the S.M.A.R.T. model offers some very worthy aspects, and it does help you think more methodically about what it is you’re aiming to accomplish before setting in motion. However, I often felt by making an objective specific and measurable, it becomes intrinsically linked to performance and opens the door to micromanagement.


So what’s the alternative?

I gave this some thought, and I came up with a new acronym that feels less rigid. I introduce you to ARTIC:  

Appealing – You should want to work on your objective! And without being too cheesy, it should also be fun. Happy employees are motivated employees.

Relevant – Related to your role and the company.

Timed – Deadlined; you do need goalposts to move between and towards.

Impactful – Make a difference to yourself and also help the company grow.

Challenging – It shouldn’t be too difficult, but it should take you out of your comfort zone to stimulate personal development.

Some of you may be thinking, but how do you measure results? For me, this is relatively black and white. I know if I achieved an objective or not if at the end of the time period I can answer yes or no to the question: “Did I do what I set out to do?”

How does ARTIC work?

To illustrate ARTIC in practice, I set myself the objective of writing this blog post and aligned my thinking to the components of ARTIC:

Appealing – Being creative is something I enjoy

Relevant – It’s an HR topic and draws off my personal experiences

Time-Constrained – I set myself deadlines (although I had to shift them…)

Impactful  – I wanted to share my experience and potentially make it easier for my colleagues to set goals that contribute to the greater Small Improvements good

Challenging – Writing a post that is fun to read and informative is a challenge!


And what about that musical objective?

I wanted to do something fun for Q1 and Q2, but also ensure my objective was relevant to Small Improvements. My thought process for how I approached this:

Lead generation and sales work need time and legwork. I knew I had to dedicate time to generating leads, which will ultimately turn into demos and revenue for the company. But how on earth do I make lead generation appealing?

My solution? I love music. Why not set myself a goal of listening to all the top 100 albums of all time as voted for by Rolling Stone, but only doing so while prospecting leads and doing sales work for Small Improvements.

I enjoy listening to music; the company also benefits. And it’ll be challenging to plan and dedicate time for it to keep me on track and ensure I do lead generation work on a weekly basis. I could even make it more demanding and aim for an average of 10 leads per album listened. So by the time I hear 100 albums, we get 1000 leads.

And how have I approached this objective? Here’s an example of an average day:

Open up a list – what’s next? Appears to be Phil Spector’s “Back to Mono”. Cool, always wanted to give him a dedicated listen and see what all the fuss is about with him being a production master of the wall of sound. 4CDs!? Wow, better plan some time in the calendar for lead generation then!

If you want my opinions on the top 10 albums in the Rolling Stone list, ask me at the end of the quarter. By that time I will have done plenty of sales work.

And that’s it for now! I hope I’ve given you something to think about. S.M.A.R.T. has its place, but in the end, objectives are personal – and you need to make the process work for yourself.

Happy goal-setting!