A Smarter Approach to S.M.A.R.T. Goals

Are goals providing a clear, specific path to achieving success for your team?

In our last blog, we outlined a smarter way for managers to approach S.M.A.R.T. goals. Focused on how to achieve results rather than just improving goal-writing, our model emphasizes how leaders can better use goals to focus their team’s efforts, gain buy-in, and deliver superior outcomes. In doing so, we changed the M, A, and T in the original model:

stamp & chase smart goals graphic

While there are a few variations on the original S.M.A.R.T. goals model, the “S” almost always stands for “specific.” Writing a SMART goal that is specific means that all aspects of the goal are clearly defined and that it answers the standard 5 Ws (who, what, when, where and why). But even when a well-written goal is specific, it still usually focuses on what you want the end result to be, not on how you’ll get there.

Clear departmental leading goals help achieve a company’s lagging goals

In their best-selling book The Four Disciplines of Execution, authors Sean Covey, Chris McChesney and Jim Huling described the importance of setting both “lagging” and “leading” goals to change performance. Lagging goals are the ones we usually set that look in the rear-view mirror and measure results (for example, our operating margin last quarter or quality scores last year).

Leading goals, on the other hand, target specific predictive behaviors that will lead to better performance and achieving the company’s lagging goals. While you can think of them like action plans, leading goals go a step further by identifying specific metrics or activities to track in implementation.

An example clarifies the power in setting leading vs. lagging goals. A strong, specific lagging goal for an individual nursing care team might be:

To improve patient and family communication, increase “staff worked together as a team” score on patient experience survey from 78.5 to 81.0 by end of third quarter.

While this goal does flag for staff that this is a priority, it does little to help them collectively understand what needs to change to achieve the goal. Here is where a leading goal is beneficial:

To improve patient and family communication, fully implement team bedside report for every shift by end of first quarter. Achieve 100% compliance for all patients by end of second quarter.

The specificity of a well-structured leading goal clarifies practice and/or process changes that will be necessary to achieve a lagging goal. This approach helps each member of the team better understand their personal responsibilities in achieving better outcomes. In this example, it emphasizes that the team will have to pay attention to how often they are holding bedside shift report, not just the score on the “staff worked together as a team” satisfaction survey question.

Strong leading goals focus on quality, not just quantity, of implementation

While it is important to quantify and track the frequency of key practices and behaviors, leading goals often have qualitative components to watch, as well. In this example, how bedside shift report happens is probably at least as important as when it happens. Is the structure clear and concise? Are all members of the team participating? Do the patient and/or family members have the opportunity to weigh in and ask questions?

In summary, to set specific goals that move performance, leaders should:

  1. Set leading goals that help individual staff members and the team as a whole understand and embrace the changes in practice that will improve results,
  2. Track, report, and discuss as a team performance against these leading goals at least every month, and
  3. Track companion lagging goals to ensure leading indicators are achieving the desired results.

In our next post, we’ll look at why making goals “meaningful” is so important to achieving success.

Stamp & Chase offers unexpected solutions to challenges of employee burnout, retention, and disengagement that many leading organizations are facing today. If you’d like to learn more about our robust tools and approaches that help leaders transform staff engagement by developing middle managers, send us a message here.