The fifth criterion for SMART goals stresses the importance of grounding goals within a time frame, giving them a target date. A commitment to a deadline helps a team focus their efforts on completion of the goal on or before the due date. This part of the SMART goal criteria is intended to prevent goals from being overtaken by the day-to-day crises that invariably arise in an organization. A time-bound goal is intended to establish a sense of urgency and give realistic time frames need to produce the results desired.

A time-bound goal will usually answer the question:

  1. When can this be accomplished?
  2. What can I do six months from now?
  3. What can I do six weeks from now?
  4. What can I do today and next week?

For the digital executive, it is important to know that most business goals are lagging indicators as well. Lagging indicators confirm long-term trends, but they do not predict them. In the economic world, some examples are unemployment, corporate profits and labor cost per unit of output. Interest rates are another good lagging economic indicator; rates change after severe market changes. Goals tend to focus on results after the fact. Well written strategies focus on those things to produce the results and are leading indicators.

Lagging indicators are typically “output” oriented, easy to measure but hard to improve or influence while leading indicators are typically input oriented, hard to measure and easy to influence. Source: KPI Library

Here are the key ideas:

  1. Start with how long it will realistically take to produce the results.
  2. Begin with the end in mind.
  3. Encourage narrowing the time frame down into shorter not longer increments.
  4. Know what the bigger goal is, if there is one.
  5. Communicate clearly why the goal is important. Never assume that people understand why.
  6. All employees affected by the goal should buy into it and should be willing to be held accountable for producing the results in the timeframe agreed upon.