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How to draw up SMART objectives that will work


SMART principles don’t work in all cases. Here’s what to do.

In 1961 a 15-year-old was caught and returned to the institution that he had run away from. His punishment: to dig over a large space in a walled garden with a spade then break down the earth with a pitchfork, collecting the debris for burning as he went.

Determined not to be tortured by the hard labour, he set about systematically dividing the ground into squares, knowing he could manage to work four squares each day. Carefully re-marking the squares each morning, he left his cruel superiors speechless as he completed the task in a matter of weeks.

That boy’s name was John Bird and, 30 years later he would use the same SMART skills to set up The Big Issue.

SMART - specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely - can trace its origins back to the engineering and education textbooks of the 1950s.

Today, people all over the world - including many clinicians - use this simple method to achieve their goals.

Its benefits are clear, yet many people still find they fail to meet their objectives. Put simply, this is often because they fail to set their objectives in the right way.

Following the five simple steps in the box will help you achieve success.

All that is required is effort and there aren’t many professionals that make more of this than nurses.

Ed Tempest is programme lead at the East Midlands Leadership Academy. He has worked extensively across the private, public and voluntary sectors to design and deliver learning and capacity building mechanisms.

Five points for SMART working

  • First, forget the acronym: SMART sounds nice but it isn’t the most practical order. Start your SMART with a question - is it measurable? If your objective isn’t measurable, then the chances are it’s not manageable either. Work with your team to break things down until you have a measurable outcome.
  • Now you’ve got a measurable outcome, you need to ensure it can be achieved. The key to this is planning and communication - talk to people, put down the Gantt chart and map the way. If you can’t map it, you won’t make it.
  • Realism is all about honesty and responsibility. Ask if you and your team can really do this. You might have notions of reaching for the stars and landing on the moon. In reality, missed objectives are at best demoralising and at worst dangerous. If your plan is not realistic, find one that is.
  • The devil is in the detail. Being specific means you and everybody else involved understands completely what you are trying to do and what their role is. The most effective objectives are the most clearly defined.
  • The best objectives in the world will come undone if they’re not timely - set deadlines and stick to them. The trick to this is involving others; make sure everybody owns the deadline and no competing tasks are likely to get in the way.



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