Goal Management: Using a SMART Plan to Achieve Results

Teams can steer conversations in the right direction when using a SMART plan.

One of the biggest benefits of using a SMART plan is that it allows teams to steer conversations in the right direction.

Whenever something goes wrong, or organizations want to improve, they set goals and develop plans to achieve the desired result. Sometimes, those plans aren't substantial enough. They don't answer all of the questions needed to turn ideas into reality.

Wouldn't it be great if there was a proven way to make sure every plan was complete? That the plan covered all the bases? Organizations can create a SMART plan to guide their planning and goal setting process.

Created by George T. Doran in 1981 for Management Review, SMART is a management term. It stands for:

  • "S" is for specific, which represents exactly what the SMART plan would like to accomplish. It answers the question of who, what, where, when, which and why.
  • "M" is for measurable. It answers the question of how achieving the goal will be measured. How else will you know if you've successfully completed the task?
  • "A" stands for actionable. It's also noted as achievable or attainable. It spells out the steps that need to be taken in order to complete the goal.
  • "R" is for responsible. Some versions of a SMART plan use the term realistic or relevant. It identifies the people needed to reach your goal.
  • "T" is for time-bound (or trackable) and establishes a schedule to achieve the goal.

Making Informed Decisions With a SMART Plan

Using a SMART plan allows teams to steer conversations in the right direction. For each idea or goal, the team needs to address all of the steps: specific, measurable, actionable, responsible and timely.

  • What's the goal? (Specific)
  • How will we measure success? (Measurable)
  • What are the steps that will help us attain the goal? (Attainable)
  • Who will be responsible for each step? (Responsible)
  • When will it be completed? (Timely)

It can be easy for meetings to become side-tracked by someone saying, "We need to do this or that." Others may add to the conversation, "In order to accomplish the goal, we must do these 10 things." The frequent result is many ideas and not a lot of action.

Here's an example of how a SMART plan can guide the conversation: During a meeting, someone says, "I'm tired of the copiers not working right. Let's upgrade our copier machines." On the surface, this seems like a fine idea. Everyone agrees.

After the meeting, the facilities director says, "I don't have a problem upgrading the copiers, but it's going to cost thousands because we have a contract we can't break without a penalty." Later, the technology director says, "I don't have a problem upgrading the copiers, but we should consider wireless printing options. It will allow printing from anywhere in the building. But, we'll need to do some rewiring. And, of course, there's a cost."

These comments should have been raised during the meeting.

Using SMART keeps the discussion on track. Using the copier example, when someone recommends upgrading, the next question becomes, "Sounds like a good idea. What would be involved from a facilities perspective?" And the facilities director gets a chance to answer. In addition, someone might ask, "Are there any new technologies we need to consider?", which opens the door for the technology director to respond.

As a result, the team should be well-informed and can make a good decision. It can also save a lot of time because conversations happened during the meeting instead of after it.

Distributing the Work Using SMART

SMART plans can be particularly valuable in distributing responsibility and assessing timeliness. Using a SMART format gives teams the ability to make sure every action step has a person responsible. It ensures that person will be held accountable for completing the step and is committed to getting it done. It also helps the group understand the allocation of resources.

As the SMART plan is coming together, the team can see if one person is taking on too many responsibilities and shift the workload. They can also see if someone needs to be added to the plan.

Not only does this allow for even distribution of the work, it gives those with responsibility in the plan an opportunity to choose their deadline. Team members can also see how their action impacts other parts of the plan. Participants know upfront their role and the impact of not meeting the goal. For the team leader, this is the essence of holding people accountable for performance. During the meeting, set levels of expectation and get team members to commit to the plan.

SMART Allows Teams to See Their Success

A SMART plan can provide teams with the ability to see and celebrate their success. When goals or action steps are created, everyone should understand what success looks like. This is the measurement component. Participants will use this information as motivation and validation that the plan was sound.

Going back to the copier example again, let's say upgrading the copiers will cost money and create an inconvenience while rewiring the office. In the end, though, the copier will break down 50 percent less and employees can print from anywhere in the building. Employees are willing to complete the action steps asked of them because the measurement (i.e. the signs of success) are attractive. Who wouldn't like to cut in half the amount of time dealing with paper jams and not walk across the building to print reports?

Using a SMART plan for goal management can help organizations properly direct conversations such as, "We've generated some great ideas here," into actionable plans focused on, "Now let's talk about who's going to take responsibility for getting it done?" Most importantly, this approach will likely lead to saying, "Thanks for handling this task. When can we expect it to be finalized?"