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Want to communicate more clearly? Repurpose the SMART methodology.

We’ve all heard of SMART goals. The acronym (short for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely) works to help us hone in on what we’re really trying to accomplish, ensures it’s actually something we can do and gives us parameters to help keep us accountable as we’re working toward the things we want to achieve in our work and lives. Most would agree that some form of SMART goal setting is a valuable tool in your leadership and team toolboxes.  In our work with clients, we’ve found that the meaning behind SMART can be repurposed as a tool in our communications toolbox as well.

So often communication among teams, from leadership to employees and in general within the office can be fuzzy and non-specific leading to misunderstandings and, ultimately, a loss in productivity, performance, and trust. What if we were intentional about making sure our communication with employees and peers was as SMART as the goals we set for the month or year? Taking a note from leadership consultant and author, Ken Blanchard, we shook up the SMART method so “M” stands for Motivating instead of Measurable, “T” stands for Trackable instead of Timely and the preferred order is STRAM, not SMART. We encourage our clients to use this model as a communication method both within the organization as well as with vendors, customers and other stakeholders.  

STRAM Communication

Specific: Ensure all parties are aligned and on the same page about what a good job looks like, including actions and timing.

What does the word “training” mean to you? I recently moderated a panel for the Microsoft Channel Partner Conference GPUG in which this exact question came up between a software application developer (known as an ISV in the Channel Partner World) and a reseller (known as a VAR). The ISV representative thought “training” was providing webinars and other passive resources to give the reseller an idea of how their product worked. The VAR, on the other hand, expected training to be more hands on, like a visit from the ISV to walk through the software and answer questions. The lack of specificity around the word “training” had caused confusion and resentment between both parties and in some arenas had even soured relationships. Using specifics and clarifying what “training” meant to each group, as well as the timeframe in which this should take place, could have saved some serious time and built far more trust between both parties.

Trackable: Foster agreement and understanding of how progress and success are measured.

This is the accountability piece of the communication puzzle. How many times have we figured out an ideal situation and not taken it a step further to ensure there’s a way to be held accountable? We leave meetings with a plan, but no way to track how that plan will work or agreements on where responsibility will lie and how we can follow up on it. For communication to be effective agreements must be made as to when, where and how measurement and tracking outcomes will take place.

Relevant: Connect your communication to a larger goal or purpose whenever you can –  and make sure that connection is clear.

Often we forget to communicate why we’re bringing something up or why it’s important to communicate about a certain topic or issue. As humans, we need to understand and maintain a connection to the why. It’s how we derive a sense of meaning and what helps us prioritize high impact topics from time sucks. In the training example above, communication and understanding that the importance of training ultimately impacts customer satisfaction helps to clarify meaning on a larger scale.   

Attainable: Work to ensure the needs you are communicating are realistic and, therefore, can be realistically heard. If your ask is a ‘no-can-do’ for the other party and you fail to clarify what can be done, the conversation will be in vain.

If there’s feedback to be given, meaning constructive insights about how to improve a behavior or process, it’s important to make sure the feedback is attainable or the person is likely to let it in one ear and out the other. Going back to my earlier example, if a VAR gives feedback to an ISV that they need to fly out a trainer for 8-hours each time a new product is created, it may not be something the ISV can do realistically. It’s important to consider if what you’re communicating is perceived as attainable. How? Ask for the other person’s perspective. Is what I’m asking do-able?

Motivating: Determine whether a message will create energy and interest in your receiver, or zap it. Craft your communication style around this awareness.

This isn’t about being a motivational speaker and leaving people in awe everytime you communicate. It’s about understanding if your message builds or busts energy and having the courage to be real about it. Sometimes we have to deliver hard messages or communicate things that we would prefer to not to. When we deliver those hard messages that zap energy or just aren’t interesting to other people, we can be more intentional about offering support or at least acknowledging that it’s not energizing or interesting.   

Next time you’re planning a conversation, rolling out a project or giving feedback – dig into your toolbox and give SMART a chance.

Amber Barnes
Amber Barnes
Amber is a leadership development professional with a heart for helping leaders maximize human performance in the workplace (and beyond.) With over a decade of experience coaching, training and advising leaders, she writes to helps leaders become more effective. Amber highlights common pitfalls, effective (and human) leadership practices as well as "must-knows" for leaders.