This paper explores the issue of goal-setting and in particular SMART technique. Although there are many interpretations and variations of this acronym, originally it states that any goal should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. This work examines Larrie Rouillard’s, John Lawler’s, Lois J. Zachary’s, Edwin A. Locke’s, Gary P. Latham’s researches in goal-setting and suggests that SMART technique is rather new and actual tool in goal-setting, but it cannot be applied to any situation. That is why it is important to analyze the situation before targeting.

SMART Technique

Each person in his life should not only have goals, but strive to achieve them. If a person has no clear goals or does not try to achieve them, he loses the meaning of life. So claimed sages in antique times, and now almost all modern psychologists tend to support this judgment. In any job, goals-setting is also very important. Even if the goal is to increase sales efficiency it is important to understand how, what and why it is done. Awareness of company’s or personal needs and desires will enable the choice of a shorter and more efficient way to achieve the desired result.

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Goals are important because they serve as a roadmap guiding and moving in the direction to desirable way of life. Goals help turn ideas into action and dreams into reality. Having goals does not mean it is impossible to live in the moment. It simply means that there is a developed plan to see beyond it. Thinking beyond today gives greater control over human destiny. Goals should not be limited to careers and education. It is necessary to set goals for every area of life (Mack, 2007, p. 164).

It is necessary to specify a goal to know where you want to move and what your direction is. Uncertain goals lead to uncertain results. One of the main tasks of management is to establish objectives for the organization as a whole system to determine the reason of its foundation, operation and development. Targeting is a starting point in the work of the manager, which is very valuable in marketing, management and life.

Each management objects’ life cycle begins with the stage of creation, which primarily determines the goals and objectives of the organization, its specialization, size, resources, markets of products or services, etc.

Firstly, it is necessary to establish the mission which is the overall objective of the company, expressing the reason for its existence. It usually specifies the status of the company, declares its working principles, the real intentions of its leaders, defines the most important characteristics of the organization.

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There are many definitions of a goal

This term is concerned by many authors from the point of view of psychology or marketing. In most cases, these definitions bear the same meaning but are expressed in different words. According to Rouillard (2003), “a goal is a specific and measurable accomplishment to be achieved within a specified time and under specific cost constraints” (p. 4).
There are two types of goals: long-term goals (from 1 to 10 years or more) and short-term goals (from one month to one year). Short-term goals should comply with long-term ones and help to achieve them.

Science of management has not developed any universal rules applied in the formulation of the goal. Thus, researchers define several criteria which make goal-setting easier, more accurate and achievable.

SMART Criteria

Although it is often attributed to Drucker, the acronym SMART for objectives is not specifically mentioned in The Practice of Management, though the emphasis on specificity in SMART terms is clearly part of the approach (Lawler & Bilson, 2010, p. 85). The first known use of the term was mentioned in November 1981 in the Management Review by George T. Doran, who is commonly believed to be the creator of this tool of targeting. This technique can be easily understood. According to the SMART criteria, any goal should meet five criteria that are encrypted in the acronym SMART in order to be easier or more achievable. However, its exact content is rather indefinite. Over thirty years of the technique’s existence dozens variations of it were created; there even appeared additional letters (SMAART, SMARTER).

The list below shows the original transcript of the acronym letters and the later variations.
S – specific (later also: sustainable, stretching, significant, simple, even small)
M – measurable (later also: meaningful, manageable, motivational)
A – attainable (later also: appropriate, achievable, acceptable, agreed, assignable, ambitious, attractive)
R – relevant (later also: resourced, realistic, resonant, rewarding)
T – time-bound (later also: timed, time-framed, time-oriented, time-based, timetabled, timely, trackable, time limited, tangible)

Any goal should match each SMART criterion. If the goal does not match at least one of them, it is set incorrectly. In this case either it is not possible to reach the goal, or the result will be not the one desired.

To set the goal, it is necessary to specify it according to the criteria in a written form. The golden rule of management says, what is not written does not exist. It is highly important to write goals and objectives because it gives the person a chance to read, reread, absorb them, and observe his progress (Wilson & Dobson, 2008, p. 4). Poorly written objectives fail to convey any management commitment to achieve particular results, and they provide little guidance for defining meaningful measures to assess performance (Poister, 2008, p. 63). Formulating SMART goals is an iterative process that requires time and good conversation. It usually begins with discussion of a fairly broad statement of intent and moves from the general to the more specific and focused. Ideally, it is necessary to sharpen the focus of the goal and articulate it in a written form (Zachary & Fischler, 2009).

Specific Goals

Setting a goal, it is necessary to ask the question about what you want to get as a result of its implementation? Why is exactly this criterion so important? It is needed to form the view of the intended result in mind. In case of setting a goal for employee, it is necessary to put original image of the result into his mind. During the presentation of the goal, the employee forms his own idea of the result. Finally, it may happen that the manager and the employee imagine the same goal in different ways. To avoid this, feedback is needed; it is necessary to check whether the employee understood his task. That is to achieve a clear understanding from the answer to the question what the result of the goal implementation should be. Strive to leave as few default issues as possible. Otherwise, the risk of not achieving what is planned increases, especially in the new and unusual situations.

Measurable Goals

Measurability of goals presupposes criteria (meters), which determine whether the goal is achieved and to what extent. If there are no meters, it becomes very difficult to evaluate the results of the work and monitor the process fairly.

Examples of the criteria, which can be used to measure the goal:

  • Percentages, ratios (this criterion is applicable to situations in which there is an opportunity to plan and analyze recurring events; for example, if the goal is to increase sales, the increase of sales by 30 percent serves as a meter);
  • External standards (this criterion is applicable in cases when it is necessary to get a feedback; for example, if the goal is to improve service, positive review of the customer serves as a criterion for its implementation) ;
  • Frequency of an event (for example, a sales manager’s job is successful if every second (third, fifth) client comes back to him for service again);
  • Averages (this meter can be used when there is no need for a breakthrough in work performance and the only need is to provide stability and maintain the quality of the work, for example, three (five, ten) sales representative’s visits of stores monthly);
  • Time (for a definite period it is necessary to achieve definite results; for example, the goal is to increase sales by 30 % over 6 months);
  • Prohibitions (some actions are prohibited, and disobedience is followed by punishment; this is a specific criterion, but sometimes it can be used successfully; for example, the goal is to reduce delays when the criterion for each delay is fine) ;
  • Compliance with corporate standards (every organization develops its own standards, the eligibility criteria is to do the job as it is accepted in the company);
  • Approval of the leaders (this means that the manager of the company should approve an employee’s ideas or projects; it can be a subjective opinion, but if the employee at the time of targeting knows that this criterion of evaluation is used in the situation, he will strive to satisfy his manager; for example, if the task is to draft marketing activities not later than January 20, the criterion here is to get the manager’s approval).

There is also another approach to measure goals

  • However, it is more applicable for personal goals than company goals (for example, if the person wants to learn a foreign language).
  • Grade from 1 to 10 how close you are now to your goal (what is your level in a foreign language now).
  • Grade from 1 to 10 how much do you aspire to get when the goal is achieved (what level do you want to have).
  • Determine how you will get to know about your achievements (for example, whether you can write in a foreign language without a dictionary or communicate with foreigners).

Achievable Goal

When setting goals, the manager should consider professional opportunities and personal qualities of the employees. The manager needs to answer the question about how to keep the balance between tiresome work and achievable result. The goals adjustment mechanism is helpful here. It states the necessity to set goals appropriate to the employee’s experience and individual characteristics. At the same time, the employee should not be underestimated, and the intense rhythm of work should be kept. In situations where it is necessary to improve the overall performance of the team, there should be used different approaches to the employee with good results and the employee who barely fulfills existing norms. This strategy is also applicable to new employees and employees who have been working for the company for a long time. A more accurate interpretation of the word “achievable” in relation to the context of the goal may be “individually achievable”. This means that goal should always challenge worker, bring him out of the comfort zone and immerse him into the development zone while maintaining his aspire to self-actualization by making some efforts. It is always necessary to challenge workers because such achievements motivate them, but it is also necessary not to make goals too stretching because it demotivates employees (Yemm, 2012). High or hard goals are motivating because they require one to attain more in order to be satisfied with low or easy goals. Feelings of success in the workplace occur to the extent that people see that they are able to grow and meet job challenges by pursuing and attaining goals that are important and meaningful (Locke & Latham, 2006, p.265-268).

It seems appropriate to distinguish several types of employees in the company:

  • Skilled worker, ambitious “star”;
  • Skilled worker, enterprising, moderately ambitious;
  • Skilled worker, adherent of stability, routine;
  • Longtime employee, passive, diffident;
  • New employee who has just come into the company.
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Depending on the type of the employee, it is necessary to use different approaches to make company goals attainable. The second option is setting the goal, which provides the improvement of effectiveness a half closer to the limit of possibilities. Such a problem is pertinent for those team members who have a long experience of successfully coping with their problems, but do not look for novelty and do not tend to stand out. Although, the goal to increase labor productivity may cause some resistance from the employee, it is doable because of his competence.
The third option of goals adjustment mechanism application targets to improve performance of the work significantly and get closer to the limit of possibilities. Experienced and enterprising employees who aspire to career development with their desire to achieve more are ready to work harder and achieve better results.

Finally, the fourth option is setting the goal above the limit of possibilities. As it is already possible to conclude, such a targeting is applicable to the most ambitious and successful team members. These employees have high results, but in order to remain on the first place they also need to develop, solve more difficult problems in comparison with the ones they have already solved.

Thus, given the experience and individual personality traits, it is possible to set goals to the employees, which will stimulate their intensive work and development.

Relevant Goal

This is the next criterion of setting SMART goals. Reflecting on whether the task is significant, it is necessary to answer the question why the employee must perform this task (why it is important for the goals of the company).

In formulating personal goals, it is necessary to determine in advance, what is its purpose. It is necessary simply to know the answer to one question: “Why?”. Another question to validate and correct formulation of the objectives is “What for?” Here is an example: a person sets a goal – he wants to make X-sum of money. He should immediately ask himself the question “Why?” The answer is “Then I buy something!” “Why?” – “To do something else…” And so on. At the end of the chain, there should be approximately the following answer: “Because this will make me happy”. If this is what will make you happy, then you are on the right track. Otherwise, if at the end of the chain you have plunged into uncertainty, it was the wrong personal goal.

Time-bound Goal

Date or the exact period of performance is one of the main components of the goal. It can be either a fixed date or it may cover a certain period of time.
Goal works like a train. It must have clearly established departure time, arrival time and duration of the way. This temporary restriction helps to focus on the goal at a given time or even earlier. Goals without deadlines or time schedule which often appear to be vulnerable to everyday crises are possible in any company. Setting deadline is very important for motivation. It defines how much time is available and if there is any flexibility (Richman, 2011, p. 66).

Depending on the time of their achievement, goals can be divided into long-term goals and short-term goals:

  • Long-term goals are the objectives that person sets for the end of the year, for four or five years from now, or even for a lifetime. However, there are times when long term goals can seem awfully far in the future.
  • Short-term goals also known as proximal goals, can be set for an hour from now, or for the end of the day, week, month. By accomplishing daily, weekly, and monthly goals, person moves closer to long-range academic, career and personal goals (Van Blerkom, 2011, p. 36).
    SMART Technique Application

Even though SMART technique is very useful tool in targeting, it is important to understand that this is not the universal tool, and it cannot be applied to any situation and any company.

The following criteria determine whether the SMART technique is useful in the situation:

  • Dates of goals achievement should be actual. Long-term planning for SMART technique does not make sense in a rapidly changing situation where the goals lose their actuality before they are achieved.
  • There are some situations when not a particular result, but a movement in a particular direction is important. In this case, the SMART technique cannot be fully applied.
  • The technique involves making efforts to achieve the goal. If any actions are not planned, the effectiveness of the methodology is low.
  • Spontaneous planning is pertinent to some people.

After clarifying the meaning of the acronym SMART, it should be noted that in 1996 Edwin Locke from the University of Maryland published the results of his research on goal setting and motivation. This study involved more than 40,000 people from eight countries – from children to scientists.

Some of the results of this study are the following:

  • The more difficult the goal is, the greater pleasure the person achieving it gets.
  • The more specific the goal is, the easier it is to regulate activities.
  • Objectives which are both specific and difficult determine the best efforts used to achieve them.
  • The person makes better progress when he is convinced that the goal is important and achievable.
  • Goal-setting is most useful when there is feedback indicating progress toward goals.
  • Goal-setting mediates the impact of previous experience on subsequent action.
  • Targets stimulate planning.
  • People have more difficulties in achieving the goals if they have no experience or training, or if they are under extreme pressure, especially time limitation.
  • Targets influence personality.
  • Targets are the standards to measure the feeling of satisfaction.

In order to gain a complete understanding of SMART goals, it is necessary to use them in practice. This includes setting both personal and company goals, which will help to determine efficiency or inefficiency of the technique.

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