Episode 4 - Get SMART - Milestones Along the Path to Your Vision

The Gridlock MBA Podcast

Episode 4 - Get SMART - Milestones Along the Path to Your Vision

Episode Notes:

You know where you want to go. You can picture the destination in your mind. You have a vision. But there will be important stops along the way. Some of these stops are necessities, like the gas station, the grocery store to fill up on snacks, or Starbucks for that last-minute road trip mocha. Other stops are just for fun and add some excitement and adventure to your journey. Like visiting that vintage toy store in that tiny roadside town or the short detour to see the world's largest ball of twine. These are all milestones along the path to your destination, your vision. Each of them could be visions in their own right. But you have a bigger, more important vision in mind. The milestones along the way are going to make your journey exciting and rewarding. They'll also make sure you're constantly moving forward.

I'm Dennis Looney and this is The Gridlock MBA Podcast.

Welcome to Episode 4 of The Gridlock MBA Podcast. I am your drive-time professor and host, Dennis Looney, multi-unit franchise business owner and 28-year sales and leadership veteran, here to help you advance your career while you tackle your commute and there's no bachelor's degree required.

This week's show is entitled Get SMART - Milestones Along the Path to Your Vision. And this is definitely one of my favorite subjects.

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I'm going to jump right in with a little story…

My wife and I opened a franchise bakery business a year ago this week. Each Saturday, I deliver a weekly update chat with our team at the bakery. About four months into our operation, I told them, "There's one thing you'll soon learn about my wife, Janette, and me - we don't let dreams stay dreams for very long. We have a vision of where we want to go and we put a plan into action." And we did just that. Seven months later, we were unanimously approved to open our second bakery location.

This illustrates how quickly dreams can become reality when an actionable plan is put in place.

This principle is one of the biggest drivers in my career progression. And it will be in yours as well. If you adopt it now and are intentional about your planning and execution.

The last few episodes built on one another. That's because a base level of proficiency in planning, scheduling, and execution are necessary before other actionable items can take hold. In the future, episodes topics will often stand on their own, covering a variety of subjects.

In this week's episode we'll continue building on the fundamentals of my planning, scheduling, and execution approach. Today, we will focus on setting goals, or as I prefer to call them, "Milestones."

I call them "milestones" for a couple reasons. First, the term "goal" can kind of feel like a desire, a dream, or a wish. Milestones are more definite than that. Secondly, the term "milestone" suggests a defined point along a path. Referring to goals as "milestones" removes the possibility of misinterpreting your intentions. You must reach your identified milestones in order to accomplish your vision.

Remember, the simple planning model includes creating a vision, establishing milestones necessary to accomplish that vision, and an execution strategy to reach those milestones.

In Episode 2, The Lost Art of Planning, I challenged you to capture three goals you could accomplish within 3 months.

And in the last episode, Episode 3, we worked on crafting your personal vision, painting a picture of your ideal career and ideal life. If you missed these, I recommend you check out Episodes 2 and 3 first.

Today, we'll examine your three goals from Episode 2 and in the next episode, we'll put it all together and execute your plans and get you closer to realizing your vision.

Let's look back at the goals you created in Episode 2

  • What are those three goals?

  • Do those goals support your personal vision from Episode 3?

If you created goals that don’t seem to align with your vision, you’re in good company. People tend to create goals with a short-term end game in mind. The short-term approach is actually appropriate, as long as there is a connection to your vision. If there’s no connection, you’re likely just looking for some quick gratification in some area of your life. Losing 10 pounds is a good example. It’s probably worth doing, but for most people, it won’t be uniquely tied to a longer-term vision. And goals that tie to a broader vision will propel your career and life forward faster and in a more intentional way than goals that aren’t connected to your vision.

Now, let’s say your vision includes becoming the president of a Fortune 500 company in ten years. Well, if one of your goals is to eat fewer Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and another is to buy an X-Box, we need to revisit your goals.

I'm not saying there's anything wrong with these goals, only that they will not move you forward toward your vision. And you can do better than that.

Better goals, or milestones, would be actionable and would create an obvious progression toward your vision.

An improved list of milestones might be something like:

  • Deliver your first presentation at your company’s National Sales Meeting or

  • Convert two target customers or

  • Increase sales of a certain product line by 8%

Each of these milestones would move you at least a little closer to becoming the president of a Fortune 500 company. No, it won't happen in 12 weeks, but these milestones certainly could be achieved in that timeframe, and that's progress.

The reason these are better milestones than eating fewer peanut butter cups or buying an X-Box are obvious in that they relate directly to the vision. But they also check the boxes on the SMART goals test.

If you've heard of SMART goals before, this will be a refresher. If not, I'll explain what they are.

SMART is an acronym that helps you apply a test to your milestone to ensure you the highest chance of success. Here's how to apply the SMART model:

Your goal (or milestone) needs to be:

  • (S) Specific - Think who, what, when, where, why, and, how.

  • (M) Measurable - This is the amount of change that will be realized once complete.

  • (A) Achievable within the amount of time you prescribed, in this case, 12 weeks.

  • (R) Usually stands for Realistic. I prefer to use (R)elates to your vision. This is an area many people fail to connect. My model assumes your milestone will be Realistic based on passing the Achievable in 12 weeks test.

  • (T) Time-bound - This one's easy. You have twelve weeks to reach the milestone. If you can't reach the milestone in 12 weeks, you probably need to break it down into smaller milestones and complete them in stages over time.

And why 12 weeks, by the way? 12 weeks is a sufficient amount of time to accomplish meaningful results in many areas of your life. Check out the book The 12 Week Year to learn more about the power of planning for 12 week periods.

The 12 Week Year physical book

The 12 Week Year audiobook

Now, let’s see how our example milestones measure up to the SMART test.

Milestone Example 1: Eat fewer Reese's Peanut Butter Cups

Specific? That depends. Have you counted exactly how many Reese's Peanut Butter Cups you typically eat in 12 weeks? If so, and you eat less than that, then sure, fewer is kind of specific. But that's probably a stretch.

Measurable? Well, it might be less or it might not be. The problem is the word "fewer,” which is rather ambiguous.

Achievable? Probably. Unless you REALLY love Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.

Relates to your Vision? Probably not.

Time-bound? Yes

The milestone of eating fewer Reese's Peanut Butter Cups falls apart in being specific, measurable, and, most importantly, related to your vision.

By all means, go ahead and eat fewer Reese's Peanut Butter Cups over the next 12 weeks, but don't bother wasting mental horsepower on it.

What about the X-Box?

Specific? Sure, you will have an X-Box 12 weeks from now.

Measurable? Yep. You have zero X-Boxes now and will have 1 X-Box in 12 weeks.

Achievable? Maybe. How much money do you have now? How difficult will it be to raise the funds to make the purchase? This one depends on the individual.

Related to your vision - I doubt it.

Time-bound. Yep. 12 weeks, one X-Box.

Again, this milestone falls apart in perhaps the most critical area: Related to your vision. And we're trying to get you closer to your ideal career and ideal life.

Let's look at the others:

Milestone: Deliver your first presentation at a National Sales Meeting

Specific: Yes. It's your first presentation at a National Sales Meeting. It covers the who, what, when, and where of the challenge.

Measurable: Yes. You've never delivered a presentation at a National Sales Meeting and in twelve weeks, you will have.

Achievable: Yes, 12 weeks is plenty of time to prepare to present at a big event.

Relates to vision: Yes. This achievement will build awareness of your capability to shine in front of a big group as well as your peers. This will move you closer to what it will take to realize your vision of becoming the president of a Fortune 500 company in ten years.

Time bound: Yep. 12 weeks to prepare to deliver one presentation.

This milestone passes the SMART test.

For practice, I'll let you apply the model to the other two milestones I mentioned to see if they hold up to the SMART test.

As a reminder, those other milestones are:

  • Convert two target customers

  • Increase sales of a certain product line by 8%

Of course, there could be situations where converting two target customers or achieving 8% growth isn't achievable in 12 weeks. But it doesn't diminish the value of the exercise. The point is to apply the model to the goals you created earlier.

Which brings us to this week's homework assignment:

Your assignment is to apply the SMART model to the three milestones you created in Episode 2. If any of your milestones fall apart at the (R) or "Relates to my vision" stage, create new milestones that align with your vision and try again. When you have three milestones that align with your vision and pass the SMART test, you're ready to move on to the execution phase, which is exactly what we'll cover in the next episode.


  • Words matter - substitute "dream" with "vision" and "goals" with milestones.

  • Choose three milestones that will get you at least a little closer to your vision in the next twelve weeks

  • Apply the SMART model to your 3 milestones and make sure they pass the test

  • Pay close attention to whether they pass the R test (relating to your vision)

    • If it doesn't relate, you're focusing on the wrong thing

On the next episode, we'll put it all together by creating an action plan for your next 12 weeks, putting you on the road to big things and bringing that vision of your ideal career and ideal life a little closer to fruition.