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AIM SMARTER” Goal Setting Recipe

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Setting Goals is like using a cookbook to figure out what to have for dinner.  You have some idea of how many people you will feed, along with the likes and dislikes of that audience.  You may even know what the main ingredients need to be, since you have inventoried your pantry (e.g., assets). 

What do you do first?  You might check the index or table of contents to explore what might be possible (your options).  Then you might review several options that seem likely, at some point settling on the one that seems to fit all of your needs (e.g., meets your audience wants & needs, fits your available assets, or requires assets easily acquirable and affordable, and results in an outcome that fulfills  -  for the most part - the initial vision). 

Then it is a matter of following the recipe, adding your own seasoning, changing the inputs, or otherwise tweaking the plan to fit your vision and your audience’s needs.  That finished meal, just like a goal, is your reward for having done all the things necessary to achieve the outcome.

Creating a goal need not be any more complicated than the simplest of recipes.  In fact, there is a “recipe” for goal setting.  The AIM SMARTER goal setting recipe uses several parts of other recipes and strategies, coming together to form an easily remembered checklist for getting your ingredients ready before you get on with the action.

The meat or the entrée, if you prefer, of the recipe is the SMART criteria, which are arguably the most ubiquitous goal setting strategy bits in the business world today.  If you are new to the acronym, it stands for:

  •  Specific: What exactly is the outcome?
  •  Measurable: The quantifiable or qualifiable metrics – How will you know it’s done?
  • Achievable(and/or Agreed-Upon, as appropriate): Can it be done with the resources available or acquirable? – What do the stakeholders believe about this?
  • Relevant(and/or Reasonable): What connection does this have to a larger picture?
  • Time-Bound: When will this outcome be true?

Just writing down a goal makes it more likely to become a reality.  Writing it down within the scope of the SMART criteria creates a firmer, more real vision – similar to the picture that accompanies a recipe in many cookbooks. 

It’s there so you know in the beginning what you are working toward.  But every entrée needs an accompanying dish, maybe a salad, to enhance its effectiveness on the plate.  For Goal Setting, that is the “AIM” salad.  This salad is tossed with three ingredients, representing various types of tastes:

  • Acceptable
  • Ideal
  • Middle Ground

When setting goals, just like in cooking, we need to know what will constitute an acceptable outcome.  Generally it needs to taste good to the audience.  The cook wants to feel good about how it turned out.  And, most importantly, we need to know when it is done.

Setting criteria at the beginning as a way to track completeness is easy when following a recipe for dinner.  The recipe generally tells you how long to cook it and at what temperature.  Plus, there is that ever important picture or vision of the finished product.  In goal setting we need to set those metrics ourselves. 

So, we start with the basic outcome:  What needs to be true for us to feel successful in our outcome?  That would be the Acceptable result.  While acceptable tells us what is basically successful, it is important to know what we see as Ideal

A lopsided cake with slightly sloppy decorations still tastes great, but if we could have the best outcome possible, our cake would be perfectly level and the decorations worthy of Betty CrockerTM.  That would be our Ideal outcome.  The Middle Ground can be considered the compromise outcome.  If the Acceptable outcome makes you happy, and the Ideal outcome makes you ecstatic – your Middle Ground outcome might put you at giddy.  And with this, the recipe is closer to complete – almost.

When composing a meal, you may include dessert, that sweet treat that signals the end of the meal for the eaters.  For the cook, the end of the meal may be signaled by the sense of satisfaction he or she gets when a wonderful meal is successful in pleasing the recipients.  That sense of satisfaction is the emotional resonance, telling the cook that he or she has reached the goal, achieved the reward, and now can celebrate success. 

As you may have guessed, the ER in our goal setting recipe is Emotional Resonance.  During the goal setting process, the emotional resonance is your cue to consider your feelings in setting the goals, how you expect to feel during the action steps, and how you feel about the planned outcome or vision. 

For the person or team responsible for the actions-to-outcome, being emotionally connected to the goal generates commitment and motivation.  It is easy to imagine that a more committed, motivated team is more likely to adopt accountability and achieve a successful outcome.  Plus, they will have way more fun at the celebration!

AIM SMARTER is a recipe for success in goal setting – easy to remember and it tastes great every time!

Notes:  AIM SMART is a goal setting strategy taught through the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (IPEC), where I have been trained.  The ER was added as a result of many years in the Human Resources Profession and my training in Positive Psychology.  AIM SMARTER is a strategy I apply with clients in my private business and life coaching practice.



Doreen Petty spent more than 20 years in the corporate world as a Human Resources professional, business partner, and leader.  Much of that time, she spent coaching other people at all levels of the organization to help them define, and then succeed at their goals.  In 2010, she started her own firm doing what she does best – helping people.  Doreen Petty Coaching’s primary mission is to help business owners and managers succeed, personally and professionally.  Through her coaching practice, Doreen helps clients accelerate progress towards goals by structuring an individualized coaching process designed with the client in mind.  With a network of specialist consultants, Doreen Petty Coaching’s HR consulting helps business owners ensure the best possible work environment for the people who depend on them.  By combining coaching services and HR consulting into one practice, Doreen Petty Coaching can support business owners, executives, and managers with ad-hoc services as well as offering a holistic perspective on the leaders and their organizations.

Doreen holds a Bachelor's degree in Business Management and a Master's degree in Psychology with a specialization in Leadership Development and Coaching.  She is a certified Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) with experience spanning a broad range of HR competencies, including coaching, leadership effectiveness, HR program management, compliance training, organization development, employee relations, process development and implementation, talent management, organizational effectiveness, transition management, and more.

Find Doreen Petty Coaching on the web at  Read more from Doreen through her Coaching the Boss blog at and “The Real Job of HR” blog at  For regular updates, “follow” Doreen on Twitter, and “like” her business page on Facebook at


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Growth in women's share of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) occupations declined to 27% in 2011from a high of 34% in 1990. While women make up nearly half of the workforce, they were 26% of the STEM workforce in 2011.

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