The SMART acronym is considered best practice for objective setting, yet somehow objectives which are ‘made SMART’ become uninspiring and unintelligible.
We are told that individual, team and organisational objectives need to be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic/ Relevant, Timebound). For the most part, goals and objectives should be something we set because we want to achieve them, but when we cryptically re-word, strip back to the specifics, take out the inspiration by dialling down to realistic and attach an (often) arbitrary deadline, they seem to lose their appeal.
How can we create goals we are actually inspired to work towards? By simplifying the processes and asking ourselves good questions.
Aim 4A Goal
4A is Achieve/Avoid/ Action Analysis. By creating an engaging table or diagram we can frame a goal that motivates us, identify what we need to be aware on pursuit of that goal and identify the next steps towards achieving it. Notice that is next steps, not every step. It is impossible to predict the future, but we can usually identify the activities which are a step in the right direction of the goal, even if we cannot yet see every move we will need to make.
Here are some of the questions to help to understand the goal and how to get there.
It’s difficult to work out what your goals are, it may need some dedicated time and a few false starts to get to the real goal(s).
- what do you want to do?
- when do you want to do it by?
It’s ok to aim big, it can be broken down into steps, many of which you might not know yet. It’s also fine to have a very narrow scope, that can be achieved through a very small number of actions. The key is to be sufficiently motivated to do the actions!
Most things can be achieved, with enough time and attention, but at what cost? In the pursuit of goals we must consider the things which might distract us, and also the things we are unwilling to compromise on to achieve the goal.
- what are the potential pit-falls?
- what might get in the way?
- what might be the unwanted impacts (on myself and others)?
- what do I need to ensure I don’t neglect, in pursuit of this goal?
- what risks am I unwilling to take?
- what behaviours am I unwilling to engage in?
- who might prevent it? (be honest).
Just as important as planning the things we will do, is to identify the things we will have to give up or are unwilling to do.
Actions need to be tailored to address the goal, and avoid the issues identified. If we don’t highlight the things we want to avoid, we may take the wrong actions.
- what can I do right now that moves me closer to my goal?
- who can help or advise me?
For every action we take, we can ask “Is this contributing to my goal?” If not, we may still choose to do it, but consciously rather than inadvertently. Add actions to the list as they become apparent, and the next best step to take.
Achieve: Speak at a conference or event in the next 12 months.
Avoid: Excessive travel costs, impact on my project work.
Actions: Identify local events, find out submission process and deadline, develop sessions ideas at weekends.
When these actions are complete, identify the next steps which move towards the goal.
Achieve/Avoid/ Action Analysis (4A) is also incredibly useful as a decision making framework. It helps keep everyone on track – “what are we trying to accomplish with the outcome of this decision?”, “what impacts don’t we want”, “what possible actions achieve the outcome and avoid the impacts?”. Often group decision making is difficult because people are not trying to achieve the same thing from the decision. Using 4A give the opportunity to build consensus on what we are working towards, address concerns via the ‘avoid’ list and jointly agree the actions which best hold the ‘achieve’ and ‘avoid’ elements in balance.
Example Decision: “Shall we reduce the training budget to save money?”
Achieve: Cost savings of X in this financial year
Avoid: Impacting staff morale, having people who do not know how to do their job, impacting customer service.
Actions: Investigate online delivery options, prioritise the training needs, defer some of the training, use train-the-trainer approach.
SMART has had its chance, and it wasn’t helping. Set goals that inspire and motivate you, work out what you need to avoid in the pursuit of those goals, then develop a plan to achieve them.
We also need to accept that we may need to change our goals. We may decide we don’t want to achieve what we once thought was important. Don’t work towards something you no longer want, just because you wrote it down or told a few people. In that case, Aim 4A New Goal, work out what that looks like, what you need to avoid, and what next step you can take.