Adding the SMARTs to Business Goals

It seems as though even something as common-sense as ‘business goals’ is not remotely clear cut. The definition, scope, method of realisation and measure of success is a tangled mess. So I’m here today trying to sort it all out. Or just adding another voice to the racket.

Squash-racquet-and-ball

The definition used by the Merriam Webster online dictionary is simple – a goal is “the end toward which effort is directed”, so for our purposes we can just stick ‘business’ between ‘the’ and ‘end’. So far so good. But then words like ‘mission’, ‘vision’ and ‘objective’ start to get in the way and it all gets a bit knotty.

So here’s how I see it:

  • business mission is the single statement that defines what an organisation (government, company or non-profit) seeks to achieve and be known for. It is the absolute apex of drivers for any business activity and capability.
  • business goal is an end which an organisation seeks to achieve and which is – drum roll as the curtains rise to show the SMARTER mnemonic – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely, and able to be Evaluated and Reevaluated. All business goals should together make up the business mission.

I think it’s worth emphasising though that these are business missions and goals and are not tied to specific projects. In the day to day operation of a business I see projects as achieving change to processes that achieve the organisation’s goals, rather than achieving the organisation’s goals themselves. Projects change processes that make the organisation, rather than projects making the organisation. Projects are relevant in making the change from the current state of an organisation to the new improved organisation’s set up, not in conceptualising how an organisation should look – and are therefore outside the scope of this model.

But the focus of today’s monologue is on business goals, so to that I’ll return.

I see correct and well-communicated business goals as one of the three most important components of a consistent and successful organisation. Business goals define the mission of an organisation in a tangible way, in a way that breaks down the goals to make them actionable and measurable. And therefore they need to be clearly defined (drum roll for the SMARTER acronym again), documented and traced through all other components of an organisational model. All policies, processes and performance indicators should be able to be traced back to these top-level components.

After all, without specific goals, how can an organisation ever know in a tangible sense what it is aiming for, or whether it has achieved it?

But I will make a biggggg concession. I’m really not too fussed about what my ‘business goals’ are called. Just as long as they exist! So while I have written ‘business goals’ in the top tier of my organisational model, feel free (for your own purposes) to insert another term of choice. My only request is… please tell me about it!

To summarise…

A business goal is:  A business goal is an end which an organisation seeks to achieve and which is SMARTER.

The purpose of business goals:  To together define the mission of an organisation in a tangible way, in a way that breaks down the goals to make them actionable and measurable.

What do you think?

Do you agree that business goals are important? Would you define them in this way? Or conversely, what would you call what I call ‘business goals’?

What do you think?