How to Set Goals So You Will Achieve Them

By Paul Morin

Assuming you agree that setting goals is a worthwhile step, it is key to understand how to set them in a way that will increase the likelihood that you achieve them. The best and simplest model I have seen and used for setting goals effectively is the S.M.A.R.T. approach, which encourages you to set goals using the following, five-step system:

[S]pecific: The goals you set for yourself should be as specific as possible. So, for example, you wouldn’t say, “I want to have a profitable business.” Instead, you’d say, “I want to have a business that generates $2 million in sales and 25% EBITDA by year-end 2013.” If you are setting a goal for yourself in the area of marathoning, you wouldn’t say, “I want to run a fast marathon.” Rather, you’d say, “I want to run a 3:10 marathon, with a 1:30 half split, by November 2012.”

[M]easurable: The goals you set should be measurable. That is, they should have a numeric or quantitative element that is measurable, rather than just be qualitative. If you cannot come up with a numeric element, you should at least come up with something that a third-party, objective observer could look at and be able to relatively easily say whether you have or have not achieved that goal. For example, in business, it may be hard to specifically measure “empathy,” a desirable characteristic — particularly for salespeople. However, if you’re working with a coach or mentor, they may be able to observe whether your demonstration of empathy toward prospective and current clients has improved over time. In sports, it may be hard to measure “awareness” of overall scenarios during a game; however, you may be able to come up with a proxy statistic that gives you a sense of the improvement in your awareness. Such a statistic in hockey or basketball, for example, may be assists. Where possible, though, you will want to make as many of your goals as possible directly measurable. Examples in sports would be “x” number of assists, goals, wins, runs, etc. Examples in business would be sales, new accounts opened, net income percentage, etc. Chances are that in your endeavor, whatever it may be, you have a good sense of the metrics that you should be measuring and striving for.

[A]ttainable: It is important that the goals you set for yourself are “attainable,” or that you at least believe strongly that you can attain them and can put a plan in place to do so. If you are simply throwing down huge, unreasonable goals with unreasonable timeframes, you are setting yourself up for failure. I’m a huge fan of “stretch” goals and I strongly believe that you should challenge yourself as much as possible. That said, it is important that you set incremental goals along the way, so that you can see a clear path to your ultimate objective(s) and so that you can experience some smaller successes along the way. If you structure your goals in such a way that you won’t experience success until the very end, you run a great risk of losing interest and/or belief in the process. So, in sum, challenge yourself with your goals, as that is the only way to achieve greatness; however, you should do so in such a way that you are able to experience incremental successes along the way.

[R]elevant: Oftentimes I’ve seen the “R” of the S.M.A.R.T. acronym used to represent “realistic,” but as far as I’m concerned, that is too similar to “attainable.” For this reason, I prefer to use “R” to represent “relevant.” If you’re focused on becoming great at your endeavor, you are undoubtedly a very busy person. So, it’s important that your goal setting be not just effective, but also efficient. It doesn’t make sense to pursue goals that are not relevant to obtaining your ultimate objective of greatness. This idea relates closely to the concept I covered elsewhere of “taking out the trash,” or doing those things that you may not necessarily love doing, but that you know need to be done. For example, in the context of goal setting, it does not make sense to note goals for concepts or activities that you’ve already mastered, even though it may feel good and be squarely in your comfort zone to do so. Rather, you should focus your efforts and your goal setting on mastering those things you need to work on to accelerate your journey toward greatness in your chosen endeavor(s). There are exceptions, of course. For example, in tennis, if getting your first serve in is absolutely critical to success, there’s no harm in noting a first service percentage goal, even if you are already a great server. The point is, don’t do so to the detriment or exclusion of setting lateral and forward quickness goals, even if those may be areas that you don’t enjoy quite as much.

[T]ime-sensitive: Make sure that ALL the goals you set have a deadline or target date associated with them. This is of critical importance. A deadline usually forces us to become more focused. It ignites our competitive spirit and usually makes us achieve more, more quickly. Without a deadline or target date, a goal is more like a wish and it is far less likely to be accomplished. On the subject of time, it is also important to bear in mind that you should set short-, medium- and long-term goals for yourself. There are a couple of major reasons for this. First, as mentioned above, if you have some short- and medium-term incremental goals, this is more likely to permit you to enjoy some successes along the way to your ultimate goals. This should help with your self confidence. Second, having incremental goals along the way is more likely to allow you to “course correct” on the path to achieving your ultimate goal(s). If you simply have one long-term goal out on the horizon, it makes it a lot more difficult to know if you are on the right track and make sensible adjustments if you are not.

It is important to set goals for yourself in all areas of your life. In particular, it is important to do so in the area(s) where you are trying to achieve “greatness.” This type of goal setting allows you to enjoy incremental victories en route, and it also makes it easier to determine whether you’re on the right path, so you can make course corrections as necessary. Make sure that, as you develop your goals, you do so in a S.M.A.R.T. way.

Paul Morin is the founder of CompanyFounder.com. Morin has worked with various entrepreneurial companies in senior management roles and has led the development, review and selective implementation of several hundred start-up and corporate venture business plans, financial models, and feasibility analyses. You can e-mail Morin at paul@companyfounder.com.
Originally published: Sep 19, 2011

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *