Goal Setting

So, I started out with an ambition to start blogging, both to help those who found graduate schemes a little confusing and to hopefully improve some of my own communication and writing skills.

It seems my objective may have been too broad and a little ambitious, to go from zero to 100 immediately. I have also been very busy at work, planning a holiday, moving out of a flooded flat, arranging a new flat and revising for professional exams… Excuses, I know – so I will hide behind them no longer.

In this post I will use myself as a perfect example of why goal setting can be a very important skill if you want to actually get things done and make sure you can look back and prove it. As always, I’ll make sure it relates to what we graduates really get up to. Welcome to goal setting 101.

Despite what you might think, some of the frameworks used by consultants really are useful and the SMART goal setting framework is a perfect example. Although most people would only use SMART for large, important tasks, I use the acronym almost daily to ensure I can get the most out of every task I undertake. I’ll start by explaining the acronym, then delve into more detail:

Pedant warning: These may be different to the ones you know. These are what I use and recommend!

S – Specific
This goes without saying and is an overall principle that should be used for every goal you create. The aim of specificity is to reinforce the next four factors.

M – Measureable
Every decent goal needs to be looked back on once complete. It is important to be able to assess whether you completed your goal, partially completed it, or – for want of a better word – failed.

A – Attainable
Aspirational goals are not useless, but they are not SMART. SMART goals are used for tasks that we need to complete, and then prove we have completed. Aspirational goals are used to motivate and inspire. Making sure your SMART goal is attainable is crucial, or there is no point in using this acronym.

R – Relevant
This relates to how the goal fits either with other goals you have set, or an overarching goal, like the mission statement of your company or group. SMART goals should be well aligned to your primary focus and not contradict other important goals you wish to achieve.

T – Time-bound
Without putting timing limitations on a goal, we would be breaking our first two rules (Specific and Measureable). This last rule serves as a reminder to set a deadline or frequency to your goal in order that you can assess your performance in the future.

I use these guidelines so often, it only takes me 60 seconds to throw together a SMART goal. Here’s an example of a SMART goal from the top of my head:

I will write and publish a new post on my blog once every fortnight until the end of January 2017.

Well, that should certainly help me commit to the blog. I have been Specific in defining the goal – stating exactly how many posts I’ll make; it will be Measurable by looking back at each post and checking the date; I would certainly consider this goal to be Attainable, considering it only took me 30 minutes to write this post; it is Relevant to the blog I am writing; and I have clearly Time-bound myself to fornightly posts until an exact date.

So how do I use this as a management consulting graduate?

  1. Twice a year we have a performance review. In these reviews it is imporant to be able to show what you have achieved – how better to do this than to have measurable goals to prove what you have done?
  2. Whenever I am given a task by a manager, e.g: “Sam, can you review my business case for [the next best thing since sliced bread], update it so we can show it to [super-secret client A], emphasise the advantages of moving the service to the cloud and cut out any reference to [super-secret client B]. I’ll need it by the end of the week, please.” I will always start by pulling out the SMART parts of the request – to keep myself on track.
  3. If I have challenged myself to work on something for my team that is not directly related to our client (e.g. develop training materials) then I will use SMART goals to self-manage, in the absence of a project manager.
  4. Outside of work, I often use these to help chase fitness objectives, stay focused when making big purchases, finish a book, improve my proficiency at new challenges (like blogging) or breakdown any difficult task into smaller, achievable chunks.

Hopefully, this post has given you an idea of how SMART goals work, why consultants like using acronyms and how I use these on my graduate scheme. I started off with a poorly defined goal – an aspiration to start blogging – and I made two posts during the last 6 months. Now I have a SMART goal, that is realistic for me to achieve and easy for me to monitor my progress against. The final rule of SMART goals is that, like most things in life, they are not set in stone. It is good practice to periodically review goals, especially to ensure they remain Attainable and Relevant.

These posts will continue to become more specific to my graduate scheme and our day to day activities, just as soon as I get used to this blogging thing…