Centering your ideas around specific, measurable milestones.

In today’s society, individuals hear an awful lot about “following their dreams” and are encouraged to “keep dreaming.” All the same, businesses constantly preach at their staff to “get motivated” and “strive to be the best” and to “hit those marks.”

While this type of advice might sound well-meaning or positive, could it actually be doing a disservice to the individual? Could it be demotivating to business staff? There is a simple answer to that question; but we’ll leave it for the end of this article.

What Causes Failure?

Failure, in short, is caused by lack of specifics. Individuals and businesses fail at reaching their goals due to advice that is vague and general and without measurable specifics. Advice such as “hit those marks” isn’t necessarily without value, but it is only a starting point.

What we will cover next is a well-known system that provides general guidance to help individuals and businesses avoid getting lost in the sea of generality and shape their desires into executable plans.

What Are SMART Goals?

How do we avoid failure? First, realize that there is no perfect formula that can guarantee we will get what we seek every time. But once we have a project in mind–a goal we want to accomplish–there are helpful guides that will help us ensure that we execute rather than aspire only.

The particular system we will review is called SMART Goals, attributed to businessman George Duran. Again, it exists to help individuals and businesses break down their goals into measurable, executable, specific milestones. SMART is an acronym for different goal characteristics. While there are varying definitions that exist for this acronym, we break it down as follows:

  • S: Specific and Simple
  • M: Measurable, Meaningful, and Motivational
  • A: Achievable, Attainable, and Action-Oriented
  • R: Relevant and Reasonable
  • T: Time-based and Trackable

Now for a deeper look into each category with good examples compared to poor examples using a seller of business training services as a model:

  • Specific
    A goal should be specific–defined simply and clearly as to what is to be accomplished. Individuals involved in the execution process should be able to read the plan and figure out what the writer of the goal is trying to accomplish. This is the what, why, who, where, and which part of the process where the most basic questions of what is to be accomplished, why it is important to accomplish, who is involved in the process, where it is to be accomplished, and which limitations exist.Poor Example:
    “We want to do more sales than we did last year.”

    Good Example:
    “To establish more presence in the growing Denver market, we want to increase combined B2B and individual sales by $800,000 in 2018 using the existing team plus 22 additional hires to overcome lack of staff. During the influx of individuals and businesses moving to Denver, it is important to increase the presence of our expertise early on.”


  • Measurable
    A measurable goal allows tracking of progress. A visual checking off of a milestone is a meaningful unit of measure that says, “you have gotten this far.” It is also motivational to those involved as the feeling of success can raise desire to accomplish more and press a goal through to the finish line. This is the how part of the process. How much are we trying to accomplish and in what time frame? How many units are we to sell? How will we know that we are successful?Poor Example:
    “We want to sell more training classes this year.”

    Good Example:
    “We aim to do $2,000,000 in sales in 2018 over our $1,200,000 in sales for 2017 by selling $40,000 in instructional services per week. The B2B Sales department will aim to sell $30,000 a week to small and mid-sized businesses and the Individual Sales department will aim to sell $10,000 a week to college students, all in the Denver area. In order to overcome current staff limits, we will hire 22 more quality sales associates–18 for B2B Sales and 4 for Individual Sales.”


  • Achievable
    A goal should be something that is actually achievable in your context. It should be attainable and realistic given the resources available to you. If it is, then the goal should be action-oriented by specifically accounting for how those resources are to be used.Poor Example:
    “We want to sell twenty times more training courses than this year.”

    Good Example:
    “We want to sell $800,000 more in training services. Given that our staff is increasing from 18 associates to 40, this is achievable so long as each sells an average of $1,000 in services per week.”


  • Relevant
    As an individual, a goal should be relevant to your life aspirations. As a business, it should be relevant to your other business goals. It is important to not spread the products or services of a business thin–in other words to lose focus on that which made the business work in the first place.

Poor Example:
“As a seller of training courses, we also want to overtake our local Apple Stores in sales of laptops to college students.”

Good Example:
“As a seller of training courses, we want to a $300,000 portion of our sales this year to come from providing courses to college students on”


  • Time-Based and Trackable
    When a goal does not have a time limit, it almost always takes longer to achieve than it should­–or fails due to lack of healthy “pressure.” A goal should be time-based in that it should have milestones to be achieved within certain timeframes. Naturally, this allows a goal to be trackable, because if a task is completed by the end of that timeframe, a visual form of measure is automatically included.Poor Example:
    “We want to increase our sales staff this year.”

    Good Example:
    “We want to increase our sales staff by 22 members this year by hiring two individuals a week over the next 11 weeks.”


In Closing

Hopefully, while reading, you experienced a bit more solidarity in thinking about your own goals as you realized that achieving them is far more realistic when being specific. This classic quote rings true:

“If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.”
– Zig Ziglar

At the beginning, we asked the question: Does vague advice to hit marks and follow dreams actually do a disservice? The answer is that it depends on what you do with the advice. Keep dreaming, yes–but put your dreams on paper with a specific and time-bound plan and you can expect to go places!

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