Try being both SMART and SHARP!


Try being both SMART and SHARP!

Just how smart are smart goals? Well perhaps it really depends on what you mean by ‘SMART’.

In this article we discuss this well-known acronym, widely used to help bring a structure to goal setting. Then we look at some other interpretations before suggesting another acronym which will help you to focus on achieving your goals, by being SHARP.

What are SMART Goals?

The SMART acronym is a practical, straightforward tool, which is widely used to help with both professional and personal goal setting. It provides  a structured approach to goal setting, each letter prompting us to think more deeply and methodically about how to set goals effectively. Perhaps the most common understanding of the SMART acronym means the goals you set should be: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bounded.

What exactly do we mean by this? Try looking at any objective you have set, or are thinking about setting. Ask yourself: “is this objective…”

  • Specific – is it clear what the objective is? Is it clear exactly what we mean?
  • Measurable – how will we know if we have achieved the objective? How will we measure our success?
  • Achievable – is it possible to achieve this objective? What do we need in place to make it attainable?
  • Relevant – is this objective one that we consider appropriate. Does it deliver wider priorities? Is it worth doing? Can we do it?
  • Time-bounded – by when are we going to achieve this? Setting a timescale provides focus and urgency, clarifying when you intend to achieve the objective. The objective has a deadline and is therefore more than just a wish!

For more on this, and some examples, have a look at our SMART Objectives page.

There’s more to SMART than meets the eye!

Whilst there’s little doubt that using this tool can help us set goals, there isn’t universal agreement on what the letters should stand for. A quick search will reveal several alternative meanings for each letter, for example:

S – can also mean goals which are: simple; straightforward; stretching; significant; strategic.

M – can also mean: meaningful; motivating

A – can also mean: attainable; agreed; aligned; actionable; ambitious

R – can also mean: realistic; reasonable; resourced; rewarding; result-based

T – can also mean: trackable; time-based; time-oriented, timely; time-sensitive; testable

This may seem a little confusing but in some ways they can make the tool more flexible. If any alternative definition of a SMART letter works better for your specific situation, then by all means use it. The important thing is that you use it to shape effective goals. However you choose to define them, goals that aren’t SMART may be more like aspirations than proper goals.

Challenging and SMART Goals

Whilst SMART is a practical management tool, it’s not necessarily motivational. And it doesn’t really prompt us to go for something really challenging. This is important if we compare the first version of SMART with some of the key research about goals. Particularly Edwin Locke’s insights, which argued that goals should be challenging. Though some say this is addressed in defining ‘S’ as stretching, it means losing the need for goals to also be specific.

To be motivated to achieve we need goals that stretch us and we are far more likely to commit to specific goals than to general goals. In our article goal setting definition, we highlight the factors which can help ensure that goals are successfully achieved, these elements should be built into a support tools for goals. So we think goals should be set using a particular version of SMART, a version which encourages us to be ambitious and to choose goals that we consider meaningful and worthwhile. So here is our alternative take on the SMART tool. Goals should be:

Specific – providing clarity (as with the best known version of SMART).
Meaningful – encouraging our commitment and belief that we can achieve them.
Ambitious – challenging goals that stretch us (but not too stretching that they become beyond our ability to achieve, as the next point suggests).
Resourced – within our abilities and facilities to achieve, and also taking into account the situation around us.
Time bound – bringing clarity, focus and aware of timeliness.

Whichever version of SMART works for you, it’s important to remember that this is only the first step. SMART helps us to define and set effective goals, but does it help us to take action? We think including setting goals that include M for motivation is a good start, but is it enough? What can we do to help us ensure we reach our goals, after spending time carefully setting them? We think the answer is to be both SMART and SHARP.

Taking SHARP action to achieve SMART Goals

If SMART helps us to set goals, then we also need to take SHARP action to reach them. SHARP helps us keep a focus on reaching goals by providing a simple structure to implement SMART. It’s easy to lose sight of even the best-intentioned goals, whether personal or professional. Without a focus on implementation, of making it happen, then regardless of how well a goal has been designed and crafted, it will probably remain only a good intention.

So to achieve your SMART goals, take SHARP action. Think:

Simple – keep your goals as simple as possible and think about the basics of what needs to be done to achieve them. Keep them both as simple and straightforward as possible.

How – knowing how we are going to do something, helps us to know it’s possible, and that we are able to make it happen.

Action – the crucial part of achieving any goal is to start to take action, to do things that take you closer to you goal. Remember the longest journey starts with a single step but you’ve got to take action to make it happen.

Review – crucial to maintaining motivation is to review regularly how you are doing in achieving your goal, and recognise and reward progress.

Progress – plan your next steps based on your review in order to continue moving towards your goal. Be willing to alter plans based on feedback to bring you closer to success.

Setting SMART goals and taking SHARP action!

SMART Goals, SHARP Goals e-guideYou can find our more about the benefits of goal setting in our e-guide: SMART Goals, SHARP Goals to help you do just this. The guide contains 30 pages and 5 tools to help you to set SMART goals, then take SHARP action to achieve them.

It includes:
  • How do you define goal setting?
  • What features of goal setting are important, if we want to ensure they are more likely to be successfully achieved?
  • What kinds of goals are more likely to make us motivated to achieve them?
  • How do you set SMART goals?
  • Why do goals matter?
  • What kind of goals should you pursue to be happier in what you do?
  • How do you set team goals?
  • What strategies can you apply to overcome barriers to setting goals?
  • How do you develop SHARP plans of action that help you to achieve your goals?
  • What techniques can you use to get things done?
  • How do you set personal goals?

Tool 1: Conventional goal setting
Tool 2: Setting SMART goals that motivate
Tool 3: The kind of goals that will make you happier
Tool 4: Taking SHARP action
Tool 5: Team goals flowchart
Tool 6: Eight personal goal setting questions

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