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SMART Communication

At Restful, our communication style is inspired by SMART goals. SMART is short for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time-Bound

I learned this technique at Yodo1, and in this post, I’d like to explain it and share my own thoughts.

TL;DR

  • SMART was originally proposed as a way to clearly set goals and objectives
  • I believe everyday work communication could be better if more people used communications that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound. This extends beyond goals
  • Examples in this article

The Need for a Better Communication Style

Many people don’t know how to communicate effectively in a professional scenario. This leads to misaligned expectations, having to ask repeatedly to get something done, and ultimately, frustration and disappointment.

While SMART is not a replacement for personal responsibility, it is a hack that will help you get the basics right. If you use this communication style, coworkers will find it easier to work with you because they will know upfront whether you are on the same page.

The Origin of SMART

SMART was originally proposed in the article “There's a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management goals and objectives” in the publication Management Review. In the original article, the authors suggested that objectives should be set according to the following framework:

• Specific: Target a specific area for improvement • Measurable: Quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress • Assignable: Specify who will do it • Realistic: State what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources • Time-Related: Specify when the result(s) can be achieved —George T. Doran, Management Review

Several variations of SMART exist. Most notably, assignable is now more commonly known as achievable or attainable (ensure that the objective can be accomplished within your current skillset and knowledge). But the overall idea remains the same.

Examples of SMART Goals

There are plenty of articles on the internet that teach you how to set SMART goals, so I won’t go through that here. You can probably learn from examples, however. Here are some examples of SMART goals:

  • I will secure a software engineering role at a FAANG company within six months of completing my computer science degree.
  • I will go to the gym three times a week for 1 year starting January 1. By December 31, I will be able to run three miles without stopping and do 20 consecutive push-ups.
  • I will write one blog post per week and publish it each Friday in August and September. At the end of September, there will be at least two posts for each customer persona: marketing, engineering, analytics, and security.

There is no one specific format for SMART goals, but all of the above examples include elements that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound.

One thing to consider when creating SMART goals is that it’s often better to define an outcome that is within your control. The blog post example has the most controllable outcome, while the FAANG engineering role is dependent on someone you don’t know hiring you. It’s not a bad thing to dream big, but perhaps you should break the bigger goal down into tasks that are within your control, such as: “Every week from now until September 30, I will contact one person from each FAANG company on LinkedIn and ask about their experience working there. If we have a good conversation, I will ask if they can refer me.”

The Case for SMART in Everyday Communication

I believe SMART should be used in more than just goal-setting. I can think of countless examples of misaligned expectations as both an employee and a manager that could have been prevented with better communication. This is especially true in remote work, where we might be in different time zones and mostly communicate through Slack. Instead of saying “I will do it” in an unspecific and non-time-bound way, try communicating SMART.

Here are some examples of responding to requests in a SMART way:

  • I will review the contract and send my questions or sign it by Friday at 3pm.
  • I will review the instructions and send any questions by tomorrow at noon Pacific time. I will complete the task twice per week, once on Monday and once on Thursday.
  • I will complete the job description and post it on LinkedIn by tomorrow EOD my time. On Monday, I will post the job on Upwork and contact five candidates who appear to fit the description.

Here are examples of summarizing in a SMART way to check understanding:

  • I believe you are asking me to check your blog for new articles and turn them into posts on LinkedIn and Twitter. I will use the specific format you defined to generate the posts. If that is correct, I will create the social posts twice per week on Tuesday and Friday.
  • Are you saying I should contact each of the top 10 authors on sleep with a request for an interview for the podcast? If so, I can do that by Tuesday EOD, but please let me know if I got that right first.

To The People I Work With

If you don’t communicate using SMART, I may be passive-aggressive and send you this article. It goes both ways though—send me this article when I am not being specific or time-bound with my communications.