How to Align Your Firm With SMART Goals

How to Align Your Firm With SMART Goals

Setting goals and holding individuals accountable is critical to the success of the firm. Results are what matters. Too often, firms are focused on the wrong things. Partners and managers tend to get caught up in how many hours an employee worked, or whether they checked their Facebook page during business hours. Sure, these activities can have a negative impact on results, but if you have documented goals and hold people accountable, the results will clearly indicate if you have an issue on your hands.

Think, Write, Share

Our mind is constantly at work, coming up with great ideas about the things we should accomplish. However, we rarely formalize these thoughts into written goals. Studies support the direct link between written goals and higher performance. The reason is simple: Writing down a goal captures what you’re thinking and creates a greater level of commitment. It is much harder to dismiss something you’ve written down than to dismiss the ideas you have floating around in your head.

To further increase your level of commitment, share your goals with others. By telling someone what you are going to do, you move beyond self-accountability to peer accountability. Most of us are far more willing to disappoint ourselves than we are disappointing others. If you can identify a person that will agree to follow up with you regarding your progress, even better.

Leadership Must Set the Tone

Even more common than a lack of planning, goal setting and holding people accountable is the absence of partner accountability. Firm leadership tends to hold junior employees accountable, but shy away from a formalized system to measure performance at the partner level. The tone of the firm is set up at the top. If partners are not willing to hold themselves accountable, employees will simply go through the motions and won’t buy into a firm-wide performance system. Documented expectations and regular accountability reviews are important at every level, but accountability truly starts at the top.

Set SMART Goals

Choosing the right goals is just as important. Individual goals should be aligned with, and support, the firm’s vision and strategic plan. Additionally, they should be clearly articulated using the criteria for SMART goals:

  • S = Specific
  • M = Measurable
  • A = Attainable
  • R = Realistic
  • T = Timely

The more specific you can be with your goals, the more likely you will commit to, and achieve, them. Ensuring that goals are written in a way that makes them measurable, attainable, realistic and timely ensures that you can truly assess whether they were achieved.

The Tools

A few tools we have developed that have proven effective, for both our clients and our internal operationsm are listed below:

  • One-Page Strategic Plan: Provides a roadmap for the firm and provides direction to individuals during goal setting.
  • 90-Day Game Plan: Documents each employee’s goals for the upcoming quarter, and increases commitment by the employee and their manager.
  • Accountability Review: Documents the results of the previous quarter’s 90-Day Game Plan, and is the basis of the assessment of an employee’s performance.
  • Communication: Honest communication is critical throughout the entire process.

Once a Year Isn’t Enough

Many firms that do have a goal setting and review process in place are only doing so on an annual or semi-annual basis. This simply isn’t frequent enough to keep people on track and committed to their goals. We recommend reviews every 90 days, in order to look back at the goals set for the previous quarter and to look ahead at the upcoming quarter’s goals. This helps ensure that people remain focused on achieving results that are important.

Results are what Matter

If an employee is meeting the goals that were outlined and agreed upon at the beginning of the quarter, it doesn’t really matter how many hours they put into it, or if they check their Facebook on a daily basis. If they are truly not working enough hours, or they are wasting excessive amounts of time, the results will speak for themselves. After all, results are what you’re really after.