The ABC’s of goal setting

Features - Career

SMART, GREEN and LINKED are more than acronyms. They could be the keys to taking your career to a higher level.

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There are many reasons why a professional golf course manager may need to develop a strategy of setting goals. These range from prioritizing daily work tasks (more effectively) to organizing complex projects for documentation to the epic goal or bucket list. To make the best decisions when it comes to goals and goal setting, there are several systems to help create powerful goals. They are known as SMART, GREEN and LINKED goals and they can make the difference between a good and great career. They are collectively known as the ABC’s of goal setting and often as the situation or setting changes the actual definition of elements within the acronyms change so if you have seen various versions of these over the years, don’t panic. Adjust your course and keep moving forward. Let’s break down some of the secrets of the ABC’s of goal setting.

SMART goals

SMART goals are perhaps the most familiar to most people or professionals. SMART is an acronym for the steps you should take when evaluating general goals that take into consideration the following criteria.

S – Specific (simple, sensible, significant)

M – Measurable (meaningful, motivating)

A – Achievable (agreed, attainable)

R – Relevant (reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based)

T – Time bound (time-based, time limited, time/cost limited)

The SMART goal approach is used with confidence by every level of goal setter from novice to expert. It establishes the core things that must exist for a goal to be noted, acted upon and completed within the scope established. The following is a general example of the SMART process at work.

The primary task involves fertilizing five acres of bermudagrass lawns at the property entrance. Now expanding the primary task using the SMART process will generate very detailed action steps leading to the highest level of execution for the task. First, you confirm that you have enough 16-4-8 fertilizer in stock to apply your chosen rate of one pound of nitrogen with half the rate applied in two directions using a rotary cone spreader verified and calibrated. It must be watered in for 15 minutes, according to historic and product label recommendations, so an inspection of the irrigation system will be performed prior to applying the fertilizer. Spreader will be washed and stored upon completion with a fertilizer application record files online and in the application record book. All tasks must be completed by noon Thursday. Sound familiar?

Let’s look deeper. Notice that a goal can have many associated tasks and watch how the SMART method can simplify the process. Is it (S) specific? Yes, fertilize one pound of nitrogen on five acres of bermudagrass lawn with a 16-4-8 fertilizer and water in for 15 minutes. Is it (M) Measurable? Yes, you can quantify the size of the area the amount of fertilizer and water. Is it (A) attainable? Yes, your plan is a good one. Is it (R) resourced? Yes, you have verified all products, personnel and tools are available. Is it (T) time-based? Yes, you must have all tasks completed by noon Thursday.

The SMART method allowed the primary goal to be evaluated for effectiveness, thus improving the odds of reaching the goal on time. Imagine the number of things that could have made the goal difficult to achieve, including not having enough fertilizer, broken spreader or bad calibration and irrigation problems. Goal setting is a process and it allows you to preplan or even reverse engineer the needed steps to ensure the goal will be reached. It is more than making a list and checking a box.

GREEN goals

GREEN goals are also tools to evaluate the steps and become more effective in reaching complex goals. GREEN goals are perfect when setting environmental goals/tasks and include the following criteria.

G – Generational (connecting multiple generations)

R – Repeatable (can the process be repeated with the similar results)

E – Easy to Start (can you make progress now)

E – Environomic (fusion of positive environmental and financial impacts)

N – Networkable (can the results generate interest from others)

It should be noted that SMART goal theories still apply and that GREEN goals provide an extra level of reflection when dealing with complicated multi-level goals. Below is a general example of GREEN goal setting.

Your goal is to establish Best Management Practices for water conservation for your facility, using the GREEN goal strategy. It looks like this. G – Generational, the water BMP will be crafted into a shared and saved living document that will be used by many generations who work at the property. R – Repeatable, the project will utilize the GCSAA, chapter and personal templates capturing processes and data that is repeatable at other facilities. E – Easy to Start, the project will begin by capturing basic water infrastructure items filed within the operation, so it is easy to start. E – Environomic (the fusion of environmental and financial impacts), the project will save water and money, so it is environomic. N – Networkable, the project has an outreach component and by sharing with green media and local media the results the potential to generate green public relations is very high and could end up on the front page of the New York Times (this has actually happened). GREEN goal strategies add another level of evaluation, especially for golf facilities.

Goal setting is a process and it allows you to preplan or even reverse engineer the needed steps to ensure the goal will be reached.”

LINKED goals

Beyond the ordinary segments of other goal setting acronyms and their impact exists the synergy of LINKED goals. It is widely accepted that the individual should focus on only a few goals at a time. In fact, research shows that if you have one to three goals, you can attain two or three. If you have four to seven goals, you can attain one or two. And if you have more than seven goals, you are lucky to attain one goal but more likely to reach zero of your stated goals. I knew there had to be a better way, so I discovered the LINKED method. LINKED goals link similar goals together then by taking reverse engineering steps to craft powerful sub-goals that creatively connect where you aspire to be to where you are now. You can accomplish huge life/professional goals and navigate a sea of goals as long as you keep a study heading by identifying those sub-goals and connections that are critical to the larger goal/success. Sometimes writing a time horizon can help with the clarity of this process. For example, if you want to eventually be a golf course superintendent (the big goal) and you are currently a turf student (early in the journey of reaching the big goal), your time horizon should start with you as a turf student (current) and have benchmarks (next logical events and sub-goals). Benchmarks include things like completing an internship at Augusta National, volunteering at a PGA tour event, graduating turf school, getting a job as a greenskeeper, landing a job as a second assistant/spray technician at a private club, moving into an assistant golf course superintendent position and ending at the linked goal of becoming the head golf course superintendent. Be detailed, be flexible, but, most importantly, stay committed to your goal and its processes on a daily basis. The more creative your benchmarks are, the more synergy you can expect from the process. Now that you have an overview review the LINKED acronym below:

L – Legendary (milestone personal/professional achievements)

I – Innovative (outside the box, NEO)

N – Navigable (many ways to reach the destination)

K – Kinetic (relating to or resulting from motion or activity)

E – Edifying (strengthens others)

D – Destined (divinely guided)

The LINKED process can lead to extraordinary results. Here is a personal example explaining the LINKED goal process in detail. My linked goal was to win the GCSAA Presidents Award for Environmental Stewardship. Following the acronym, it looks like this: L – Legendary, winning the PAES which is the GCSAA’s highest environmental honor, is considered a career/life achievement award by many so it is certainly legendary. I – Innovative, my plan was to be innovative through case studies, certifications and outreach. My water and IPM case studies led to my first book deal “The Environmental Stewardship Toolkit,” John Wiley and Sons 2012 (available on That’s where GREEN and LINKED goals debuted, so again it was pretty innovative. N – Navigable, in the beginning, I thought the path was clear that I would be at my original property when eventually I reached the link goal, but because I had multiple strategies if needed, I made a bold move and took a tour of duty at a second multi-course property to complete the task and improve my skills, proving the goal was indeed navigable. K – Kinetic, the motion required was epic and connected me to many people and programs such as the Turf and Ornamental Communicators Association, Audubon International, E-Par, GEO and many GCSAA staff, including green expert Mark Johnson, so it was Kinetic and resulted in other awards and lessons along the way that were epic in their own right. E – Edifying, it is hard to say just how many people were impacted by this epic goal. I have taught thousands of amazing people in classes, plus many more through books and articles and dozens of my staff have gone on to be superintendents or manage their own green businesses. Humbly, we all made each other better, stronger. D – Destined, it seems an obvious conclusion to reaching any lofty goal that has progressed through the LINKED philosophy that it was destined to be. However, on my quest to win the PAES, there were at least 99 reasons or occasions to quit or give up, ranging from droughts to floods. The deep truth is that you must believe you are destined to reach the goal and be willing to keep moving forward no matter what occurs even against the negativity of those close to you. I won the PAES in 2010 on a Tuesday and because of the connections created by the LINKED process and an aggressive time horizon I also won the TurfNet Superintendent of the Year on Thursday. Not a bad week 10 years of LINKED perseverance in the making.

That was a lot of information and I know what you are thinking: All that stuff may work for some people, but not me. I ask a simple question: Why not you? The power of these methods and measures is that it makes you aware and connected to your goals, visions and action steps every day, multiple times a day. This is powerful because you begin to make progress and then others come to your aid. The synergy starts to build, and you see a clearer path to achievement. The bigger the achievements are, the bigger the confidence you have to chase even bigger goals and aspirations. I have dedicated most of my professional life to refining these strategies and have written extensively about my successes and my challenges. In the end, the ability to identify and achieve complex goals is a treasure map to fill your life with amazing things, but you must do the work. SMART, GREEN AND LINKED goals are keys to unlocking an amazing life. All it takes is a little effort each day.

Anthony Williams, CGCS, is the director of golf course maintenance and landscaping at the Four Seasons Resort Club Dallas at Las Colinas in Irving, Texas. He’s a frequent GCI contributor.