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How to Set SMART Goals

I once heard about a billboard along the side of a busy freeway that read, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will do.”  Basil S. Walsh once wrote, “If you don’t know where you are going, how can you expect to get there?”

Do you show up to work each day knowing where you are going?  How about those you manage – do they have a clear sense of direction or a picture of what progress looks like?  It is the role of the leader to set goals for themselves and those they lead based on the mission and vision of the organization.

Goals are a kind of road map that give people direction on their journey toward a final destination.  Without them, people and organizations will drift along without any real sense of forward motion.  And year after year they will wonder why they don’t seem to be getting anywhere or making any real progress.

Every department and person within an effectively managed utility should have goals and objectives. Implementing regularly evaluated goals allows leaders to understand where performance is and what needs to be improved.

Writing goals can be a daunting task if done without a particular process. Having a clear format and goal development process will enable you build an effective roadmap toward success. SMART is a technique you can use when building goals. It outlines your goal in an easy and clear format.  This post will give you a checklist of the key elements you should include in every goal.  If done right, SMART goals can serve as guide posts or mile markers on our journey towards a better future.

SMART goals are:

  • Specific – Goals should be as specific as possible.
  • Measurable – It should be clear when goals and objectives are met.
  • Attainable – Impossible goals are not motivating.
  • Relevant – Related to the employee’s job function or personal development goals.
  • Time-based– Goals need specific time frames and deadlines.

Specific Goals

Goals need to be specific. They should communicate exactly what is expected. Specific goals explain who is involved and what outcome should be achieved. It can also identify a location, requirements, and reasoning behind the goal.

For example, a general goal might be, “Optimize the treatment process to reduce chemical costs.”  While a specific goal would be, “Conduct daily jar tests to determine the optimum chemical dose, thereby reducing chemical costs 15% to $20/acre-ft of raw water treated within 12 months.”

Measurable Goals

Goals need to be measurable in order to be effective. They specify how much or how many. Measurable goals allow a person to identify when the goal has been accomplished.

Using the same example with a general goal to reduce chemical costs, we can ensure that it is measurable by adding a quantifiable outcome.  For example, “Lower chemical costs to $20/acre-ft of raw water treated.”

Attainable Goals

Goals should always be attainable. We need goals that challenge us but are still within reach. When goals are seen as unattainable, people will give up without even trying. The attainment of a goal should always be within reach.

An example of an unattainable goal might be, “Cut chemical costs in half.”  While an attainable goal might be, “Reduce chemical costs by 15%.”

Relevant Goals

It is important to ensure that the established goals are relevant to a specific job function and is in agreement with the organization’s mission, vision, and values. This helps to keep the goals developed by different departments aligned with the utility’s overall strategic plan.

An example of a relevant goal would be, “Reducing chemical usage by optimizing the chemical dosage is relevant to treatment plant operations staff.”  This would certainly be in alignment with a treatment plan operator’s job function as well as the overall goal of the organization to operate efficiently.

Time-based Goals

Goals should always have a time frame. General goals do not establish a time frame. Time frames are important because they encourage us to move forward. Without a deadline, we run the risk of pushing off the tasks required to accomplish our objectives.

Again using the same example of cutting chemical costs, a general goal would be, “Reduce chemical costs.”  Whereas a time-bound goal would include a deadline and might look more like, “Reduce chemical costs within 12 months.”

So there you have it.  A simple checklist you can use when setting goals for yourself or for those you lead and manage.  By implementing this one simple technique you can provide a clear path toward success for yourself and for others.

American Water College provides online and onsite technical and management training for water and wastewater professionals. Click on the link for more information about our Effective Utility Management training program.  Or check out our Classroom Training Schedule for dates and locations of our upcoming events.