S.M.A.R.T is a popular acronym in Management that relates to goal setting. This powerful tool however is as applicable to Management as it is to virtually any endeavour in life where a target must be reached. As I write this article, I have just received the good news from a friend who has applied for the YALI Regional Fellowship for 3 years without acceptance, but has been accepted in the very latest episode, applications of which just concluded. The only thing that changed or was introduced into his essays this time was the principle of SMART I shared with him only recently. No scholar has ever won the coveted award on the basis of generic or highfalutin goals like: ‘I shall end hunger in my country’, ‘I will invent the cure for cancer or HIV,’ ‘I plan to become the president’ etc. Any Dick and Harry can make these claims, but only SMARTER career plans, clearly outlined convinces the panel. Now, what is SMART(ER) and how should you use it to your advantage in outlining your career objectives?
S – Specific, Significant, Stretching. Like I would always say, you need to demonstrate laser-point specificity in your essays. This means that you ought to define what it is you want to do and be clear about it. Specific means answering the ‘What’, ‘Where’, ‘How’ and the ‘Why’ of what you’ve decided to do. The goal should also be significant, meaning ‘important’ and ‘needful’. It should also be noble and stretching, implying that it should be big enough to inspire motivation and commitment (not easily reachable, yet, not too herculean that it demotivates and cannot be reached) E.g.
“Owing to the man-power gap in XYZ in my country (Why), I plan to contribute to the critical mass of technocrats on-ground to undertake ABC post-graduation (What). In this regard, I will use XYZ competencies acquired from my studies (How) to implement ABC projects (What) starting from the underserved regions of DEF (Where), which are in sync with what the UK is currently doing in my country (relating it to Chevening/UK/DFID priorities).”
M – Measurable, Motivational, Meaningful. This answers the question, what tools will be used to analyse results or determine whether progress is being made?. Goals should be measurable so that you can show tangible evidence after a while. Usually the S – specifies the entire goal statement, but there are numerous short-term goals or smaller measurement scales within the larger goals. Measurability is usually undertaken using the scientific method (research publications- journals, demographic reports, statistical reports etc.), interviews, surveillance and monitoring systems etc. and they are shown through matrices, indices and indicators (both local and global). Example of indices include poverty level, Global Development Index, Gender Inequality Index, GDP, Per-Capita Income, Carbon Emission Rate, World Bank Reports on macro-economic indices, UN/WHO Reports, Maternal Mortality Rate, Neonatal Mortality Rate, NHIS Coverage, Crude Death Rate, Employment Rate, Literacy Level, Life Expectancy etc. There are loads of them. E.g.
“These post-study engagements will translate to improved life expectancy and Maternal Mortality Ratio in XXX region (Meaningful), thus contributing to achieving SDG 3. This is also expected to empower women, hence, reducing the poverty level steadily by 0.5 percent over X years (Measurable). I will measure the impact of the ABC initiative over 3 years using scientific surveillance systems (Measuring instrument) to make the results both empirical and replicable.”
A – Achievable, Attainable, Acceptable, Action-oriented. Goals should be attainable. They should stretch your abilities, yet remain doable. This answers the question ‘how realizable are my goals?’ Goals like: I will be the next Mark Zuckerberg or the next Yusoufzai or the next Minister of health will definitely “de-sell” your essays rather than attract favor. It also answers the question ‘how may I accomplish this goal based on the foreseeable constraints?’ E.g.
“In the mid-term, I hope to assume a leadership position at our Budget Office (stretching), this is because the XYZ module at the University of QRS will furnish me with the quantitative skills as well as the macro and microeconomic competencies (How) to designing and implementing sustainable budgeting paradigms obtainable in the UK. My over 4years experience in the industry, membership of a global economic network of think-tanks afforded by the Chevening platform and my plan to pursue (Action-oriented) certifications with the Chartered Budget Professionals of Nigeria (How) will make this possible (Achievable in the mid-term).”
R – Relevant, Result-focused. Goals should be relevant and result-oriented. They should measure outcomes not activities. Where possible statistical evidence should be used to drive the relevance by painting a picture of what the situation is currently and where we plan to be in X-years. If as a physician for instance, I outline one of my goals to be researching or developing a vaccine for small pox. It is simply irrelevant as the disease has been virtually wiped out in my country and there is a suitable vaccine in use already. One of the most recurrent mistakes I’ve noted in this section of the essays is that, people write loads of good stuff but they aren’t showing the result. I know, it’s all a plan and not yet reality, but in science we predict the future by considering the current evidence and outlining objectives as well as the methodology to achieving the targets. So, do not be afraid to estimate statistically and qualitatively what you consider might be the potential impacts of your engagements. E.g.
“By 2030, I envisage a Green economy in XYZ – one with a carbon-foot-print of less than X percent, and a diversification of our economy from an oil-based one to a multilateral one, consequent upon the ABC initiatives (Action-bound)I plan to implement targeting 5 key areas of QRS (Specificity). This will position my country among the top 10 economies (Relevance) and help actualize the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of……..”
T – Time-bound, Timely, Trackable. This is self-explanatory. Every goal needs a target date to demonstrate commitment and seriousness, so that it’s not discarded, and so that you have a timeline to work towards. This answers the question ‘When?’, ‘What can be done in 5 years?’, ‘What can be done today?’ Studies show that 90 percent of the time, specific, challenging and time-bound goals lead to higher performance and attainment than casual or easy goals like “do your best goals” (Locke and Latham, 1990). For example, telling someone to ‘try harder’ or ‘just do your best’ is less effective in contrast to saying ‘try to get more than 80% correct’, or ‘concentrate on beating your best performance ever’ or ‘ensure you finish in 20 minutes’. E.g.
“In 2 years post-graduation (Time-bound goal), I plan to undertake a research focusing on the mental health impacts of the insurgency witnessed in X region of my nation among IDPs displaced to XY zones. This will enable me to link up research findings to policy while recommending on the front-line solutions to local problems……”
E – Evaluation/Evaluable. This is much similar to measurable. The slight difference is, whereas measurability is interested in outcomes and the tools for measuring such, evaluation is interested in how relevant and significant the project still is. ‘Is it still sensible within the context of present reality whether or not success is being achieved or not?’ It also looks at the available resources, culture and geographical setting and other wider determinants affecting the goal. It tries to identify the need for modification of the prior goal. For instance it will be crazy to insist on carrying out a research for developing TB vaccine if your country’s TB burden is insignificant (the goal of the scholarship is to help you help your country primarily, not other nations), and an abundance of TB vaccines already existing. E.g.
“I shall intermittently evaluate my goals to ensure that they are still relevant in meeting the local health needs of X communities by regularly carrying out a community needs assessment.”
R – Review(able). If evaluation identifies the need for modification, this then leads to reviews. Every goal is reviewable, whether it was casual, generic, or specific. An unreviewable goal connotes a dead man. It is like a young man with nothing on ground, not even lady friend of his own presently, saying: ‘by November 1, 2017, I MUST be married. This is miraculously possible, not necessarily scientifically sensible especially in Africa where I come from; and Chevening is not interested in miracles. So, if this doesn’t happen by the date, what next? Suicide? Every goal must be revisited intermittently for appraisal and modification where necessary.
“I shall intermittently adapt these goals to meet the most prevailing aviation needs in my country in juxtaposition to the changing trends and innovations in the global aviation space…….this will ensure that the industry meets local expectations while keeping abreast with global best practices”.
NB: for lack of word space it is good to confine your goals to just SMART. The others are mostly relevant in practice. I must say also that the use of the items needn’t necessarily be serial. This is not cast in stone.
Finally, many of you write this section without as much as mentioning UK/Chevening or DFID priorities or what they are doing in your country. Perhaps, you assume the assessor already knows what the priority areas are or what DFID is doing in your country. It is good practice however, to intermittently remind them that your course choices are in sync with the priority areas, and that your career plans aligns with UK’s interests in your home country. Do not be discouraged if your course choices do not sound like they align with Chevening priorities. It only means, you need some creativity to link them up; and every course and every goal is linkable, including a course as weird as MSc. Astronomy and Planet Science. You can find out the Chevening priority areas from your country’s web page or reading reports from your local British Council or from statements made by your British Envoy regarding their interests in your country. DFID goals can be found by googling DFID and adding the name of your country next to it. They are large policy documents detailing DFID’s Initiatives in different sectors of your economy. If you’re in the Health sector for instance, you may just confine your goals to that segment citing one or two of such initiatives where necessary. The truth is, this is not just an investment into your future; it is also an investment in and for the UK. They expect returns. Only those who show that they will benefit their countries and the UK as well, in some ways no matter how small, catch their fancy. Best Wishes.
*Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not reflect that of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), its partner organizations or any scholarship awarding institution.