Recently, I wrote about how to make SMART goals work for you and explained why your “why” was the missing piece of the SMART goal formula. In this article, I am going to take you through the steps of using SMART goals to achieve your goals as a leader of a team of people and give you a SMART goals template you can use to make sure your goals are achieved.
How to use SMART goals as a leader
Unlike when using SMART goals for your individual goals, creating SMART goals as a leader requires what is called “buy-in” by your team. Often a leader has a number of goals they want to achieve, they have those goals clear in their own minds, but they fail to achieve their goals because they fail to communicate those goals in a way that motivates their team. Without their team’s buy-in, these goals are not going to be achieved no matter how SMART they are or how motivating they are to the leader.
As a leader, here’s what you can do to ensure your goals are achieved.
Make your goals as simple and clear as possible.
A few years ago I did some work for a large car company. That company’s goal for the year was to sell seven million cars and become the seventh largest car manufacturer in the world. This goal was communicated to all the company’s employees in a way that every employee was absolutely clear how their efforts would contribute to the achievement of that goal.
From the manufacturing plants around the world to the purchasing, finance, sales and marketing departments; every department bought into the goal because the leaders in the company communicated the goal in such a way that everyone understood exactly what was required of them and exactly what the goal was. On every department wall, there were two large numbers— “7/7”. This acted as a daily reminder to everyone in the company that their goal for the year was to build 7 million cars and become the 7th largest manufacturer in the world. They achieved their goal.
Whether you are a leader of a large, multi-national corporation or the CEO of a small start-up with five employees, you need to make sure the goal you set for your people is crystal clear and be specific about how their contribution towards achieving that goal really matters. A classic mistake I often see is where each department has different goals and none of those goals clearly reflect the company’s overall goal for the year.
An example of this is where the HR department has a goal of reducing the staff turnover to below 20% and the sales department has a goal of increasing sales by 15%. On their own, these goals do not communicate to the staff how their efforts will contribute towards the company’s overall goal for the year. They might be clear but they do not have any obvious relation to the company’s overall goal.
Start with the overall goal
Instead of setting individual goals at a departmental level, start off by making sure everyone is clear about what the team or company’s overall goal for the year is. Let’s say the company’s overall goal is to achieve a market share of 5%. That goal would be communicated to all team members in all departments.
Once everyone is clear about the goal, the next step is to get each team member or department to come up with how they will contribute to achieving that goal. Your HR department could say “by keeping staff turnover to below 20%, we will reduce the disruption caused by having to train new staff and help to maintain consistency throughout the year.”
The “what’s in it for me?” principle
Whether we like it or not, people will always look at a new initiative from the perspective of “what’s in it for me?” While we might like to believe our team and the people around us are motivated by some other higher moral purpose, our natural human reaction is always defaulted to “what’s in it for me?”
For example, your team could be motivated by a moral purpose, the health and welfare of your customers; but the motivation for your staff is the way doing good for others makes them feel and that is still a personal motive, rather than a higher moral purpose.
You need to consider your team’s motivation. Some members of your team will be motivated by money, others by the opportunity to be promoted and others by how the goal will affect their work/life balance. All these motives need to be addressed in how you express the goal to your team.
Once you accept this when it comes to describing the specifics of the goal, you can frame it in a way that motivates your team. For example, if your team is motivated by the opportunity to be promoted, then you would frame the goal specifically to show your team how by completing this goal, they will improve their career objectives.
Communicate your goals frequently
Once you have explained the goal clearly and specifically, you need to continue expressing the goal to your team. I often see a hive of activity around the annual planning period of a business and once acceptance of the goal or objective has been gained, little or no further communication about the goal occurs. Everyone settles back down to their daily work and very soon all thoughts and motivation to achieve the goal are forgotten. A leader’s responsibility towards the goal is to continually reinforce the goal’s purpose and the motivation to the team as a whole. Try reminding everyone in your team each week about the goal. Regularly give feedback to your team about how they are progressing towards achieving the goal and remind them of why they are achieving the goal. Every time Tim Cook is interviewed or gives a talk, he always states the purpose of Apple is to make great products. You just know every department at Apple lives that purpose. Every single employee’s focus in on making great products. As a leader, Tim Cook’s example is a great example to follow. State your goal, or purpose, every chance you have.
Create achievable milestones
As obvious as it sounds, I see very few companies and leaders creating clear, specific milestones around their goals. Most goals are broken up into quarters and as a quarter nears its end, the leaders in an organization run around panicking because they are not on track to achieving their quarterly milestone. This is caused by not maintaining a focus on what the goal is through regular communication.
Instead, break the goal into weekly and monthly milestones. Remind your team every day, if necessary, of what you want to achieve that week and month so that as a quarter closes, you will be very clear what needs to be done to make sure you hit the overall milestone.
Regularly motivate your team members
When I was a young car salesperson, our sales manager had a large whiteboard in his office. On that whiteboard was the team’s monthly target, the quarter’s target and the yearly target. Each salesperson’s current sales both weekly, monthly and annually was also on that whiteboard.
Every morning, we had a fifteen-minute team meeting to discuss what sales we expected that day and the best approach to get the sale. The sales manager’s focus was always on the current situation and always reminded us of where we were and why we were doing it. During the two years, I was a member of that team; we broke all the company’s sales records and we were the best sales team in the group.
This was down to the clarity of our goals and the daily reminders of where we were and where we needed to be. Every time I visited my sales managers’ office, I was reminded of my goals, our team’s goals and what needed to be done to achieve our goals. It was a great incentive.
When it came to motivating our team, our sales manager knew exactly what motivated each team member. Our top salesperson, Claire, was motivated by money and our sales manager incentivised her by giving her a bonus if she sold more cars that month than the previous month. For me, I was motivated by the car I drove.
My sales manager would often incentivise me by allowing me the use of a ‘special’ car for a weekend if I beat my target. I still remember working extremely hard to beat my target one month so I could use a Range Rover Vogue SE to go to the British Rally Championship that month. Needless to say, I beat my target and enjoyed three days driving around the Welsh countryside in a luxurious SUV.
As a leader, it is your responsibility to know what motivates each member of your team and using that to maintain their focus and motivation on the goal.
One of the most common reasons why goals are not achieved is caused by a lack of transparency. The larger the company, the larger the temptation to compartmentalise information between departments.
Often leaders think the finance team do not need to know the sales target and the sales teams do not need to know about HR’s staff’s turnover targets. When you compartmentalize these goals, you lose transparency and it can damage the ability for teams to work together to achieve their goals.
If the marketing manager and the HR manager know each other’s goals, they are much more likely to work together to achieve each other’s goals. The marketing manager will work hard to keep his team motivated and less likely to leave. Likewise, the HR department will do whatever they can to assist the marketing department to achieve their goals.
Create an annual goal book
When we create personal goals, the best advice is to write our goals down. A great way to ensure your team buy into your goals and to make sure there is complete transparency is to write an annual goal book.
This book outlines the goals you have for your company, why you are achieving them and what will happen when you achieve it. It will also detail how each department in your company can contribute towards those goals and what their goals are for the year.
This book is provided to all employees so they are clear about what you want to achieve, why and how each department in the organization can contribute towards achieving that goal. This book will create transparency between all departments and will remove any difficulties caused by compartmentalisation within your organisation.
Creating the Annual Goal Book may be more work for you as a leader, but the benefits in terms of buy-in and transparency will more than reward your efforts.
Give regular feedback on goal achievement
As a leader, you are responsible for the communication of the goal. But that responsibility does not end once you have communicated it.
Your responsibility is to consistently remind your team of the goal and to give constant feedback on how each member of your team is doing and how they are contributing towards achieving the goal.
Filter your decisions
Filter your decisions through the prism of how your decision will best help towards achieving your goals. One way to keep both yourself and your team accountable for your goals is to run any decision through the prism of your goals.
Before making any decision ask yourself and your team how this decision will help towards achieving the goal. Use questions such as “what would be the best way to achieve the goal? For example, if one of your goals is to reduce costs, but your designer’s computer is due for replacement, ask the question “could we get another six months out of this computer?”
Often we blindly follow convention because it has always been done that way, in this case replacing the computer every two years, yet it may be possible to get another year of use out of the computer without disrupting productivity.
However, if the goal is to increase the productivity of your team, perhaps having a faster computer may help to speed up the design process and thus improve your design team’s productivity.
Framing your decision-making through the prism of how best to achieve your goals helps to maintain focus on the goals and when you involve your team in the decision-making process and they understand that the decision needs to best meet the goal’s achievement, helps to maintain buy-in by your team.
A Leader’s SMART goal template
To help you utilize SMART goals more effectively, here’s a step-by-step guide of a SMART goal template:
1. Be specific about your goal
Make sure all members of your team are clear about what it is you want to achieve.
Communicate the goal in as simple language as possible (no latinate or vague words) and make sure everyone, no matter what their position within your team or organisation clearly understands what it is you want to achieve.
2. Make sure each member of your team is clear about their contribution towards the goal and how it will be measured
Once you have communicated your goal to your team, arrange one on one meetings to explain to each member of your team how their contribution will be measured. Also, be clear about the milestones you will be monitoring. Make sure that your team accept and understand how their performance will be measured.
3. Be very clear about what each team member will be accountable for.
Every individual member of your team needs to be given responsibility for a part of the goal.
Whether that is asking the intern to monitor progress on milestones or your lead designer being responsible for making sure the artwork for the product design is completed on time. Each individual member of your team must be accountable for something to ensure buy-in by all.
4. Make sure everyone believes the goal is realistic
If you have a history of failure to achieve your goals, then you need to communicate to your team that this time there will be no failure. Everyone needs to get behind the goal and everyone needs to know that with effort, persistence and hard work the goal can be achieved.
All goals need to challenge but they also need to be realistic. If your team do not believe the goal can be achieved, you will not get the required effort to achieve your goal from the team. As a leader, you need to show your team it can be achieved.
5. Make the deadline clear
When you expect the goal to be achieved needs to be made very clear. Deadlines for your milestones and the eventual achievement of the goal need to be communicated to all your team members.
Consistent feedback and reminders should become part of your daily habit. This focus is a key element towards achieving even the most challenging of goals.
BONUS: Get buy-in from all your team by appealing to your individual team members’ motivators
As a leader, you need to understand what motivates your team members. Make sure the way you communicate your goal is in a way that stirs the individual motivation points of your team members.
Remember people are different. Some are motivated by money, others are motivated by the desire to make the world a better place. Understand these motivators and make sure when you communicate with your team you push their motivation buttons.
As a leader, your responsibility is to make sure your goals are clearly communicated to your team (Specific) and you regularly give feedback on performance and achievement (Measured). Each team member must be clear what their responsibilities are for achieving the goals (Accountable) and they should understand how the goals will be achieved (Realistic) and by when (Timed).
But it does not stop there. Good leaders understand what motivates their team and use that to get buy-in from all team members to achieve the goal. Consistent motivation by the leader helps to maintain focus, energy and enthusiasm for achieving the goals.
At the same time, to avoid compartmentalization, making sure there is transparency about all the goals in the organisation will encourage the various teams to work together towards achieving the goals.