Why making your goals SPECIFIC will help you achieve in 2020.

What are your goals for 2020? Do you want to progress in your law career? Find a better work/life balance? If so, join the club!  The trouble with these laudable ambitions is not that they’re unrealistic or unachievable, but that they’re woolly and generic. They apply to pretty much all lawyers I know! So how is it that some people manage to achieve them, when others don’t? 

Well – it all comes down being Smart. 

Unless you’ve been living as a recluse up a mountain in the Outer Hebrides for the last 40 years, you’ll be all too aware of SMART goals. SMART goal-setting is now ubiquitous in the workplace and in modern HR practices, though it was only as recently as 1981 that George T. Doran laid out the new “S.M.A.R.T way to write management’s goals and objectives”.

The simple mnemonic, which seems so straightforward and standard now, was at the time somewhat groundbreaking.  Of course, organisations, managers, teams and individuals have always had goals and objectives, but Doran correctly observed that these were often indistinct and amorphous – which ultimately made them difficult to achieve, and diluted their impact. His solution was to come up with a standardised formula by which goals could be clarified, defined and measured. Simple! The SMART goal was born.

Over the years, the SMART goal has evolved and been adapted to suit particular situations or industries. But the basic formula remains roughly the same. Every goal you set in your career (or in indeed, your life) should be:

S – Specific
M – Measurable
A – Achievable
R – Relevant
T – Timely.

It’s a great general rule for helping you achieve your objectives. But today in the blog, I’d like to explore my own thinking about goals – and why I believe that to achieve in the coming new year, you should be looking at setting Smart goals, not SMART ones!

Did you spot the difference?

Smart not SMART. With the emphasis firmly on the S. In my version of the SMART formula, one element takes precedence over the others. And that’s S for specificity.

As a coach, it is helping clients hone their general ambitions into specific goals with discrete steps  for reaching them that is key for guiding them to achieve their potential. It’s the area that most people struggle with. Most of my clients are already high-achieving lawyers. Most of them have the same general goals – to progress well in their careers and balance work with a successful family life. And that’s where they get stuck. 

A general, indistinct aim like ‘progressing in your career’ remains in the realm of dreams and imagination until you grasp it, dissect it, analyse it, and cement it in reality. A general aspirational dream or ambition can stay floating at the back of your mind – always helping you in your efforts to perform well and produce good work, of course, but not actually directing to where you need to go, or showing you what you need to do to get there. It does not motivate you to act intentionally or to take real ownership of your own circumstances.

That’s why specificity is all important. And being specific is not just about having a very focused and clear idea of what you want to achieve – it’s about having a tightly defined way of achieving that goal. The steps you need to take to reach your goal are just as important as the goal itself. Perhaps you’d like to be offered partnership at your law firm within the next couple of years for example. Exactly what do you need to do or to plan now in order to make that an achievable goal? This ultimate goal may require you to take a number of steps over time (i.e. reaching smaller goals) before you can stand a realistic chance of achieving it. Do you need to raise your profile in the workplace?  Find and nurture a niche specialism? Ramp up your professional networking capabilities? Take up some public speaking opportunities? Being specific about what you want and what you need to do to get what you want, requires you to take control of your life and career, and intentionally turn those big amorphous dreams into smaller, concrete realities. 

As you approach the end of 2019 then, and start thinking about your aims for the New Year ahead, keep the idea of the Smart goal in your head. Being specific is the most effective and applicable aspect of goal-setting. Once you have the specifics nailed, the rest of the SMART formula falls into place. It is not until you are specific about what you are trying to achieve and how you are going to achieve it, that your dream becomes a goal, and your goal can then become a reality. 

In this week’s podcast, I’ll be explaining how to identify and set a specific goal. If you’re interested in finding out how one-on-one coaching can help you hone your aspirations into specific goals with discrete and achievable steps, sign up to receive information on my ‘Having it all’ programme.