Specific, Clear Goals, SMART framework


Setting and achieving goals are only the starting points for our growth and development, not the final destination. If we succeed, it's crucial to build on that experience to set better goals for our next challenge. If we fail, it's necessary to understand the reasons for the failure and move in a better direction.

Setting SMART Goals is an excellent way to continuously manage and improve goals. We can establish criteria to judge the success or failure of our goals by setting specific and clear goals. This methodology systematically creates a process for [Set → Execute → Evaluate] goals, ensuring our efforts lead to meaningful outcomes or analyses. Then, let's start by briefly exploring what a SMART Goal is.

What is a SMART Goal?

The term "SMART Goal" doesn't necessarily mean just being smart; it stands for a "Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound" goal. Simply put, it can be described as a clear and specific goal. Let's take a closer look at each of these elements.


What specifically do you want to achieve through this goal?

For a goal to be specific, it should include the following components:

  • X: Action for achieving the goal
  • Y: The specific target or indicator of the goal
  • Z: The change in Y

It's crucial to clarify what each of these XYZ components means. For example, if you say, "Improve brand loyalty through a marketing campaign," you need to specify what kind of marketing campaign you'll conduct and define what "brand loyalty" precisely means in this context.

(Note: X can be detailed further in the strategy and tactics after setting the goal, so Y and Z are essential components.)


How can the success of this goal be measured?

We should be able to distinguish whether the goal has been successful or not. If we can measure the change in Y, which is mentioned as "Z" in the XYZ components, then the goal can be considered measurable. For instance, you can set something like, "Increase Instagram followers by more than 2,000." Defining the exact figures you aim to achieve can aid in planning strategies for reaching your goal and reflecting on the outcome.


Is this goal achievable?

If the goal is deemed unachievable, our motivation can decrease. For example, setting a goal for a new sales employee to acquire 100 large corporations as clients within the next quarter could be too high and unachievable, leading to demotivation and possibly quick resignation rather than motivation. It's essential to ensure that the goal can realistically be achieved within the timeframe. However, the goal should be more challenging than it's achievable without any effort, as this can lead to boredom, procrastination, and difficulty in finding practical solutions. Ultimately, setting a goal that is challenging yet achievable is crucial.


Is this goal relevant to the purpose?

Since the goal is to "achieve a purpose," it's vital to ensure that our goal is genuinely related to the purpose. If the goal is unrelated to achieving the purpose, a significant revision may be necessary, or additional supporting goals may need to be set (e.g., sales growth goals with a cost limitation).

*When searching for SMART Goals, you'll find that the "R" can stand for both "Realistic" and "Relevant." "Realistic" is sufficiently covered under the value of "Achievable," so we will use "Relevant" as R here.


When does the goal need to be achieved?

If there's no deadline, it can blur the lines between success and failure and make it difficult to properly plan for goal achievement. Therefore, properly set goals must have an end date or a deadline.

Why do we need to set SMART Goals?

It provides a clear criterion for success.

Achieving goals surely brings us joy and a sense of accomplishment. However, it's crucial not only to be satisfied with the fact that a goal was achieved but also to understand how it was achieved. In cases of failure, identifying the reasons and deriving improvements is key to goal setting.

SMART Goals are valuable because they provide criteria for judging success and failure. Because we can specifically (S: Specific) identify by when (T: Time-bound) and what figures (M: Measurable) need to be achieved, it's clear to assess success or failure. Furthermore, since there is an assumption (A: Achievable) that the goal is not far-fetched but expected to be within our reach, it also aids in making improvements through retrospection.

It allows us to devise a plan to achieve our goals.

Planning is necessary to achieve goals. Too distant or extensive goals can demotivate and instill fear rather than encourage action. We should concentrate on what must be done today rather than looking too far ahead to focus on solving problems for goal achievement.

In order to determine what needs to be done today, a detailed plan derived from the goal is essential. While plans can fall apart due to external factors, they can be adjusted and updated in response to these variables.

Because SMART Goals provide clear numeric targets and timelines, they enable the development of strategies and tactics, allowing for contemplation on when and how to proceed.

We can access the possibility of achieving goals.

Suppose you have an appointment with friends at 3 PM. On your way, you check the map at 2:30 PM to see how close you are to the destination. Luckily, you find that you can make it by 2:58 PM.

To determine if the goal is achievable, you need to be able to assess the progress at a given point. If you're ahead of schedule, you can encourage setting higher targets for greater achievements. Conversely, if you're behind, you can quickly define the problem and introduce new strategies and tactics to improve the success rate.

With SMART Goals, having specific metrics to achieve and a set timeframe makes it easy to express and diagnose the progress rate.

  • Estimated Progress Rate on Evaluation Day = (Evaluation Day - Start Date) / (End Date - Start Date)
  • Actual Progress Rate on Evaluation Day = Achieved Figure / Target Figure

By comparing these two rates, you can gauge and diagnose the likelihood of successful goal achievement.

*Note: Depending on the nature of the project, the progress rate graph may not be linear.

SMART Goal Playbook

Step 1: Write Down Any Goal.

Creating a SMART goal from the start could be challenging as it requires complex thinking. You will be able to create a SMART goal in one go when you gain some knowledge, but for now, let's write down anything on your mind. But for now, just write down any goal that comes to mind. Let's try making the following goal smart for this example playbook.

Initial Goal: Increase sales through the launch of a new product.

Step 2: Identify the Purpose and Set the Direction

Question to Ask: Why?

Increase sales through the launch of a new product. WHY?

The growth of existing products is slowing down. It's because we've reached the limits of cost-effectively increasing market share with existing products. Moreover, there's feedback that the existing products have become too complex with too many added features.

Now, we need to create a new source of revenue by expanding into new markets with a new product. The real purpose behind increasing sales through a new product launch was to secure new sources of revenue by expanding into new markets. Then, we revise the goal to better encapsulate that purpose.

Revised Goal: "To increase sales by pioneering new markets through the launch of a new product."

Step 3: Define Specific Metrics

Question to Ask: What exactly do we want to achieve? How will we measure it?

What does "increase in sales" specifically mean? By what criteria can we evaluate an increase?

We're aiming to increase sales… But considering our rapid growth, comparing it to last year's first half seems unnecessary. We'll measure the success based on how much sales have increased compared to the last quarter.

An increase in sales can be specified as a 20 billion increase or a 20% increase compared to the last half, quarter, or month. We need to create a specific metric to define success in terms of sales increase.

Revised Goal: Launch a new product to enter new markets and boost sales by a specific amount or percentage over the last quarter.

Step 4: Setting Criteria for Success/Failure

Question to Ask: So, by when and how much do we need to achieve?

Once the reasons and metrics are specified, it's time to define the extent of achievement.

Given the time it takes to develop a new product, it seems appropriate to set a semi-annual goal. We want to increase the sales by 20% in the second quarter compared to the first quarter.

Now that the period and the desired metrics are defined, a specific and clear goal has been established.

Revised Goal: By the end of this first half of the year, launch a new product to pioneer new markets, aiming to increase sales by 20% in Q2 compared to Q1.

Step 5: Adjust the Difficulty of the Goal

Question to Ask: Is this achievable within the timeframe? Or is it too easy?
  • Case 1: If the goal is set too easily
Isn't that too easy?

Considering our company's history of sales increasing by 20-25% with each new feature release, aiming for a 20% increase seems too obvious and easy. Since we're entering a new market this time, setting a more challenging goal of a 30% increase seems achievable with effort.

Setting an easy goal can make it hard to feel accomplished and fail to fully utilize the potential. If the goal seems too easy, consider enhancing it through a challenge.

Revised Goal: By the end of this first half, launch a new product to penetrate a new market, aiming to increase Q2 sales by 30% over Q1.Case 2: Setting a Very Challenging Goal

  • Case 2: Setting a Very Challenging Goal
Is that achievable?

Although there are no issues with the development speed, the most successful launch of new features increased sales by only about 13%. And the marketing budget available now hasn't changed much since then. Still, aiming for about 17% seems desirable for a challenging goal.

An impossible goal can't be achieved by will alone. If the goal is too challenging, consider adjusting the difficulty down to a level that is challenging yet achievable.

Revised Goal: By the end of this first half of the year, launch a new product to pioneer new markets, aiming to increase sales in the second quarter by 17% compared to the first quarter.

In summary, to create a SMART Goal, start with a simply set initial goal and answer the following questions to develop a specific and clear SMART Goal at an appropriate level:

  • Why?
  • What exactly do we want to achieve, and how will we measure it?
  • By when and how much do we need to achieve?
  • Is this achievable within the timeframe, or is it too easy?

Milestone-type SMART Goals

As we establish goals, we learn that some goals cannot be expressed in measurable numbers.

e.g., Launch a dating app MVP with features x, y, and z by Q4.

You can consider this goal to be SMART. It has a specific timeframe for launching a dating app with features x, y, z, and measurable criteria. If the development team deems it challenging yet possible, it meets the achievability criterion, and features x, y, and z can encapsulate the purpose of this goal. However, this goal makes it difficult to track the "goal achievement rate" before launch.

Such goals can be made into milestone-type SMART goals.

Define milestones for the launch, considering completion as 100%, and assign achievement rates to each. It's not necessary to assign the same value to every step. Depending on the impact and required time of each milestone, a higher achievement rate can be assigned. This allows continuous tracking of goal progress, assessing whether the planned launch is feasible by the deadline.

HARD Goals vs. SMART Goals

As we've seen, SMART Goals and HARD Goals each have their unique features, and combining them can lead to more effective goal setting. Applying this approach to OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) allows for the benefits of both goal-setting methodologies to be utilized in setting objectives.

HARD Goals focus on internal motivation, helping individuals to set goals they are deeply passionate about. When setting an "Objective" in OKRs, the HARD Goal framework can be used to establish a fervent purpose. This provides a strong motivation towards the goal.

The SMART Goal framework is applied to set Key Results (KR) to achieve the objective. KRs with specific and clear directions aid in the systematic planning to realize the goals. Additionally, by defining success and setting measurable indicators, it becomes possible to assess whether the goals have been achieved.

This combination helps in setting passionate goals while simultaneously guiding the goals to be specific and realistic.

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