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The gold standard in goal setting has long been to create SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. The idea is that you’re more likely to achieve a goal if it has all those characteristics.

Now, The Management Center, an organization committed to advising social-impact leaders on management practices, has found a way to improve SMART goals: by adding inclusion and equity to make them SMARTIE.

Keep reading to learn more about SMART goals, the reason behind the “IE,” and how to take your goals to this next level.

Understanding SMART goals

The SMART acronym is generally attributed to a 1981 article in Management Review by George T. Doran, a consultant and former director of corporate planning for Washington Water Power Company. Since then, people have interpreted the SMART criteria to mean different things. For example, The Management Center interprets “A” as Ambitious and “R” as Realistic. But the general idea is always the same: to sharpen a goal so that you use your time wisely, assess progress, and ultimately achieve the goal.

To understand why SMART goals are effective, consider one of the most common New Year’s resolutions: to exercise more often.

If you start the year saying, “My goal is to exercise more,” you probably won’t make much progress. For starters, what does it mean to “exercise more”? What counts as exercise? How much more do you need to exercise to reach this goal—an extra 30 minutes per day or per week? Or does “more” mean that you need to do more types of exercise, like combining cardio with weightlifting? And how will you know when you’ve achieved this goal? Is there a deadline by which you need to be exercising more?

A SMARTer goal would be to resolve that by April 30, you will:

  • Incorporate 30 minutes of cardio into your regular workout three times a week;
  • Add an extra 15 minutes of activity to each day, such as taking the stairs or walking around the block during lunch; or
  • Gradually work your way up to bench-pressing a specific amount of weight that is ambitious but achievable.

In work and in life, we tend to set more vague goals like “exercise more.” The challenge is to push ourselves to turn a vague goal into a SMART goal, so that we have a better chance of success.

Why adding inclusion and equity is important

In the social-impact sector, we want to do more than just get things done. We want our work to make an impact. We want to change outcomes; sometimes we want to change entire systems that affect people’s outcomes.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that in order to make an impact, we—the social impact-sector as a whole—need to center inclusion and equity as core values and use those values to guide our work. In other words, if we’re not doing our work in an inclusive or equitable way, then we’re only making an impact for some people, not all.

What is inclusion? What is equity?

According to the Racial Equity Tools glossary:

  • Inclusion is “authentically bringing traditionally excluded individuals and/or groups into processes, activities, and decision/policy making in a way that shares power.” Whereas diversity is about who is present in a given group or room, inclusion is about who has the power to make decisions or participate in a meaningful way.
  • Equity refers to the outcomes that are available to you. The glossary defines racial equity as “the condition that would be achieved if one's racial identity no longer predicted, in a statistical sense, how one fares.”

Equity is not the same as equality. In an equal system, everyone is treated the same way, but their outcomes may not be the same. In an equitable society, everyone has the same opportunities to achieve the same outcomes. Because there are systems and structural barriers that prevent some people from having the same opportunities, we have to actively break down those systems and counteract those barriers to achieve equity.

For example, the Building Movement Project found that people of color in the nonprofit sector often encounter structural barriers that make it more difficult to reach leadership roles. In light of these findings, they recommended steps for nonprofits to take to make their office environments more inclusive and their hiring and promotion processes more equitable.

Inclusion and equity don’t happen by accident; it takes intentional, continuous work to keep striving for these ideals. Incorporating inclusion and equity into your goals is one way to hold yourself accountable to this work.

Converting SMART goals to SMARTIE goals

Now, it’s time to get SMARTIE. The Management Center offers one example:

The “IE” part of this SMARTIE goal is that the people of color are included as volunteer leaders who can shape the process. You can envision how the outcomes of this goal—the eventual makeup of the 100-person team, the conversations they end up having with voters or whoever they are canvassing, and the results—may end up looking different because of how this goal is written.

To test our SMARTIE muscles, we’ve written examples of our own:

The Management Center has a worksheet so you can practice writing SMARTIE goals.

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Deborah Swerdlow profile image

Deborah Swerdlow

As a nonprofit advocacy professional living in Washington, D.C., Deborah works with groups across the country to educate their communities and lawmakers about public policies that can help low-income residents make ends meet. She is passionate about helping people connect their interests to a cause they believe in and empowering them to take action.

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