SMAART Goal Setting

January 12, 2019

SMAART Goal Setting

In 2008, I finished my Kellogg MBA program and landed a phenomenal brand management role at Unilever.  For the next couple of years, I immersed myself in the world of armpits as part of the Degree deodorant team.  From day 1, I was clear on my goal: sell more deodorant. Laddering up to this goal were numerous metrics and strategies – steal X% share, or grow one of our sub-lines by a certain amount.  

When I transitioned back into Education Reform after this role, I found myself in situations where goal setting wasn’t so clearly defined.  I managed a grant that partnered with 10 different charter management organizations (CMO) and came across some tricky areas. For example, setting a goal of all students reading at a 2nd grade level by year end didn’t make sense when some were reading at a kindergarten level, and others at a 4th grade level.  Or, how did you measure student growth in a class like Yoga? Art? Gardening?

This is when I realized that goal setting in mission-driven organizations is much harder than in the corporate world.  As stated in Eliyahu M. Goldratt’s book, “The Goal” (required reading for all business school students), the goal of a business is to make money.  But in non-profits, you have a layer on top of that, with the goal to be financially sustainable and to make an impact aligned with your organizational mission.

As I continued to partner with different schools to set goals, I started to use the SMAART goal framework, a slight deviation of traditional SMART goals.  As a consultant who coaches mission-driven organizations to create long term strategies, I use this goal framework to set annual, quarterly and monthly milestones to track both ‘traditional’ measures and impact-related measures:

  1. Specific:  When setting any goal, it’s important to be specific about what needs to be accomplished.  It should be able to answer who is responsible, what needs to be accomplished and why the goal is important.
  2. Measurable:  There should be a clear, tangible way to measure your progress towards the goal, which can be tricky but not impossible.  For example, if you wanted to set a goal around creating a great company culture, you should look for ways to measure this year on year (such as with Gallup’s Q12 survey, measuring employee retention, etc.) instead of relying on gut or instinct.
  3. Achievable and Ambitious:  The traditional SMART framework focuses on setting an actionable goal – the added “A” for ambitious honors the urgency in mission-driven work.  If an organization’s mission is to eradicate world hunger, they could set an actionable goal – perhaps growing 10% from the prior year. However, with 800M+ people suffering from hunger, that amount of growth may not be ambitious enough to fulfill their organizational mission.  
  4. Relevant:  Make sure that your goal is relevant to the outcome you hope to achieve.  
  5. Timely:  Finally, a time frame is needed for all goals – without a timeframe, this is no accountability or sense of urgency.

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