When considering our goals and desired outcomes, it’s important to be aware of the role our mind plays in confirming our perceptions of reality and, at times, even altering them. In pursuing outcomes, it’s crucial that our goals are well-formed, thus ensuring the highest likelihood of accomplishing them. With the SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timed) methodology, anticipated achievements can be systematically realized. Freed from the realm of negative “what if” scenarios, SMART conversely instructs us to act “as if” our desired outcome has already been guaranteed in the future and propels us toward positive “what ifs.”

If you’re bringing your training team members along with you as you move toward your goals, then determine what they consider most significant to their roles. Find what they value and why. Then, connect your mission in a way that is also meaningful to them. To better understand these ideas, let’s break down the SMART methodology from the perspective of persuasion and influence and under the lens of training and motivation.

S: Specific, Stated in the Positive, Sensory Based, Self-initiated and Self-maintained

The importance of having specific training goals in mind reminds us that any ambiguity in our plan of action invariably means heading off track. We must remember that we inevitably move in the direction of the mind’s most dominant thoughts. So, when envisioning your goals, make certain that your ideas, plans or methods are specific, as these are far more powerful and likely to be accomplished and/or maintained than vague goals.

The “S” also reminds us to state it in the positive because the brain fails at processing negation.  Notice where your focus goes when I say, “Don’t think of an elephant.” By engaging all of the senses we ensure that the goal is sensory rich, making it more compelling for yourself and others. If you have goals for someone else, but they don’t share that goal, we’re likely setting ourselves up for disappointment. In order to be well formed, a goal needs to be self-initiated, and one needs to maintain the actions required to achieve it.

M: Measurable and Meaningful

Measurable goals, like specific ones, are easier to understand and evaluate due to their quantifiable components. By ensuring that there are measured steps to take in order to reach your desired outcome, pursuing said outcome becomes more compelling and rewarding. The “M” of the SMART methodology also asks us to consider what is meaningful to both ourselves and our team members before moving in the direction of influencing or persuading. We need to know our audience. What do they care about and why? How can we keep their interests and values in mind as we work with them? By showing someone that the achievement we are guiding them toward reflects their own values, they will be more ready and inspired to approach that goal.

A: Attainable, “As If” and Actionable

Our goals must be attainable objectives that we can actually accomplish. For learning leaders, this means delivering quality programs on time and within our training budgets.

Once you have a set goal in mind, whether it’s to roll out a new onboarding program or double down on your own professional development, it is extremely beneficial to leverage the “as if” frame, which guides the brain to imagine the accomplished goal as a reality at a specific point in time in the future. We can then ask ourselves, “If I were to accomplish this, what initial steps would I need to take?” The necessary steps also need to be actionable. While we can spend a great deal of time imagining an outcome that we would like to accomplish, it’s only when we literally take action that we begin to move in the direction of manifesting it in reality. By ensuring that a goal is attainable and actionable, we reinforce our commitment to the journey with the requisite behavioral steps.

R: Realistic and Relevant

As we’ve seen above, our goals need to be realistic if we are to achieve them. For instance,  it’s ridiculous to think that I could complete a marathon this weekend in the absence of ever having trained or prepared for it. Perhaps more importantly, the desired outcome which we envision must be relevant to all parties involved in the process, including ourselves and others. The question is, “Who is this goal relevant to and why?”

T: Timed, Toward the Future

Lastly, committing to a realistic and specific timeframe (with daily, weekly, monthly or annual steps) further ensures that our progress is measurable, and it builds in accountability, providing us with a sense of accomplishment as we incrementally move toward achieving the goal. Remember that incremental progress boosts our confidence in being able to achieve the end goal. Goals need to be future-oriented because the past remains fixed, and it is futile to waste energy thinking about what we should have or could have done. Although we can learn from events of the past, the only things within our control to change are the present and the future. Learn from your past and apply those learnings as you design your future.

A Note About The Ecology of Persuasion

Now that we’ve examined SMART methodology in the context of the training manager job role, let’s consider the importance of ensuring that our desired outcome benefits any individuals we may be persuading in a meaningful way that serves their needs as well as our own ends. This concept is what we refer to as the “ecology of persuasion.” In linguistics, the term “ecology” is applied to human systems — think family, work relationships, institutions and communities.

As an individual learning leader, it is imperative that we are aware of how any small change could potentially impact the entire system (i.e., your organization).

To be ecologically considerate, one must genuinely evaluate whether any desired change in a person and their behavior is truly in that individual’s best interest. To influence with integrity is to assist others in becoming fully aware of their needs and to provide the essential help needed to find real concrete solutions.

If you want to influence others while preserving your integrity and doing what’s best for them, be SMART and ecological in your process. In doing so, you will elevate yourself and others, and you’ll also feel satisfied knowing that you were considerate every step of the way.