How to Succeed in Your Improvement Initiatives using the S.M.A.R.T.E.R Approach
Goals are always great, but there’s definitely an art to making the right kind of goals. Let’s talk about the S.M.A.R.T.E.R approach that gives you and your team the tools to make your new year’s resolutions a reality.
It’s the first week of January – that magical time when most of us are filled with optimism and energy.
We’re so excited that we’ve probably already brainstormed and come up with several goals or ideas.
And that’s awesome. I don’t want you to lose an ounce of that excitement or motivation.
All the motivation in the world won’t get you very far if your goals aren’t defined enough.
You’ve probably heard of S.M.A.R.T goals – but I’m actually here to focus on S.M.A.R.T.E.R (and yes, those last two letters are just as important as the rest). I picked up this concept from Michael Hyatt, but added a managerial twist to make it that much more applicable and relevant.
I’m even including examples of what each of these concepts looks like, so you have a clearer idea both of what to do, and what not to do as you create your new year’s objectives.
Our time and energy are finite, and we don’t want to waste it on goals that are vague or impractical. The S.M.A.R.T.E.R approach will help you turn your goals into great, achievable initiatives.
How to Succeed in Your Improvement Initiatives This New Year
So, let’s go through each letter in the S.M.A.R.T.E.R approach in more detail.
The vaguer your goal is, the harder it will be to accomplish it.
The opposite is just as true: the more specific your goal is, the easier it will be to reach it. Not that it will be “easy” per se, but you will have a much clearer idea of what you want to achieve, which makes it much easier to focus.
Here’s a not-great example of “specific”: I want to improve our team’s performance
The problem here is that it’s so open-ended. It leads to a bunch of questions: improve your performance how? In what way?
You won’t be able to make much progress if your goal is not specific.
Here’s a good example of “specific”: I want to improve our cycle time
See the difference? In the second example, you’ve pinpointed what it is that you want to improve. You can actually make this goal even more specific, which is what we’re going to look at next.
It’s hard to know if you’re making any progress on your goal if there’s no way to measure it. Besides knowing the “what”, we need to answer the question, “how much”?
Here’s a not-great example of “measurable”: I want to improve our cycle time
Even though this is a good example of being specific (“what” it is we want to improve), it doesn’t tell you how far to reach.
Here’s a good example of “measurable”: I want to improve our cycle time by X%
The % amount you choose can vary depending on what is realistic for you and your team (we’ll talk about this more later on). The important thing is that you have an exact number in mind so that you have something to measure against where you are currently.
Let’s continue building on the same example we started with.
Here’s a not-great example of “actionable”: I want to improve our cycle time by X%
While it meets the first two criteria, you still don’t have any plan for how to implement it. You have the “what” (improve your cycle time), the “how much” (by X%) – now you need to answer the question of, “how will we achieve that?”
Here’s a good example of actionable: I want to improve our cycle time by X% by introducing WIP limits
Now your goal isn’t just a wish – it’s a solid gameplan!
Let’s talk about the “X” part of our example.
You don’t want to set the bar for your goal so low that you aren’t stretching yourself. But on the other hand, you also don’t want to aim for something unrealistic that only sets you and your team up for failure.
The key is to find that sweet spot that pushes you out of your comfort zone, without causing anxiety or burnout.
Here’s a not-great example of “risky”: I want to improve our cycle time by 2%
2% improvement is not really a challenging goal. In turn, that means you will experience a much lower pay-off than if you pushed yourself a little harder.
“I want to improve our cycle time by 200%” isn’t a good goal either, since it’s so extreme. You want to want to find the sweet spot in the middle.
Here’s a good example of “risky”: I want to improve our cycle time by 20%
The goal here is to stretch yourself just enough to experience growth and a little bit of discomfort but not so much that you feel overwhelmed.
It’s a meaningful enough goal that you and your team will see real differences in outcome, and feel real pride in being able to accomplish it.
We still have the question remaining of “when” we will accomplish this goal. It’s going to be confusing to implement your goal if you don’t have a sense of the timeline.
Here’s a not-great example of “time-keyed”: I want to improve our cycle time by 20%
This is great but how much time do you actually need to get there? Is it 2 months? Perhaps 2 years? By when do you want to accomplish this goal?
Here’s a good example of “time-keyed”: I want to improve our cycle time by 20% by the end of Q1 2023
Now we have a reasonable timeframe that makes sense. It’s risky enough to push you outside your comfort zone, but it’s still realistic.
No matter how specific, measurable, actionable, risky and time-keyed your goal is, if it doesn’t create a sense of excitement in you and your team members then you’re going to be fighting an uphill battle to make it happen.
You want a goal that will lead to some kind of reward; the more intrinsic the better.
Here’s a not-great example of “exciting”: When we accomplish this goal, we will have a work party
I’m all for having fun as a team, but with an important goal the motivator needs to be a bit deeper. It needs to have long-term beneficial consequences for the whole team.
Here’s a good example of “exciting”: When we accomplish this goal, we will be able to transition to a 4-day workweek
Think about it: if you’re able to improve your cycle time by 20% or more, you and your team will be achieving the same results in less time!
That in turn means you can decrease your workweek – the reward is the natural consequence of fulfilling your goal. Not to mention it’s very exciting and motivating, which encourages you and your team to stick to making the goal happen.
It’s important that your goal is aligned with your values. You want it to be something you and your team can feel good about – not something you find yourself questioning or even regretting when the going gets tough.
Here’s a not-great example of “relevant”: We are going to improve our cycle time by 20% by the end of Q1 2023 by working 10 hours per day
Do you really want you and your team members to be up at odd hours every night, and over the weekends? Is your ultimate goal worth that kind of sacrifice? This approach can quickly lead you and others to ask: “is this really worth it? What is the point of this?”
Here’s a good example of “relevant”: We are going to improve our cycle time by 20% by the end of Q1 2023 by cutting out all the waste in our delivery process
In both examples you are reaching to improve your cycle time, but the mentality is completely different.
In the second example, you are setting yourself up to have a tremendous, positive long-term impact on your business culture. It’s relevant because it’s true to your values and your vision.
Ready to Set Your Management Goals and Achieve Them?
So there you have it! I hope this was stimulating and helpful for creating (or tweaking) your management goals for 2023.
It’s important that you are able to keep track of your goals to make sure you’re heading in the right direction. With Nave, you’ll be able to measure the progress of your improvement initiatives to make sure that you stay on track and turn your goals into a reality. You can try it here for free, for 14 days with no obligations →
Do you know of anyone else who’s currently working on their management new year’s resolutions? Be sure to share this article with them on your favorite social media channels.
I hope that 2023 is off to a wonderful start for you, and I’m excited to see you here next week, same time, same place, for more managerial goodness. Happy new year!
Meet the Author
Sonya Siderova is a passionate product manager and a driving force behind Nave, a Kanban analytics suite that helps teams improve their delivery speed through data-driven decision making. When she's not catering to her two little ones, you might find Sonya absorbed in a good heavyweight boxing match or behind a screen crafting a new blog post.