Over the years, I have heard horror stories about companies that were not improving daily operations, but instead experiencing massive chaos in the day-to-day management of their businesses. Those situations can lead to disaster for companies and, in some cases, even death for consumers. Having an effective food safety and quality management system in place will help reduce the chaos and create a system for continuous improvement. Creating goals is crucial to an effective food safety and quality management system. Does your company utilize food safety or quality objectives? Have you ever heard of SMART objectives? Let us take a journey into creating SMART-er objectives:
SMART is a widely-used acronym in goal-setting, usually meaning Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-bound. When integrated into creating food safety and quality objectives for your company, each individual attribute becomes the “yellow brick road” to lead your company to accomplishing your goals. Establishing SMART objectives allows a company to hone in on a specific focus of food safety and quality with a way to measure progress towards an overall larger goal. There are some variations in the meaning of the acronym, with the italicized word being the most common:
Specific or significant. It is important to align your specific objectives with your company mission or vision. The objectives must be detailed to help your company focus your efforts on what you want to accomplish in the context of your larger mission, goals or vision. If your mission is to deliver safe, high quality food items to your customers in a timely manner, then you can create your objectives in the context of that goal. For example, perhaps you have received numerous complaints from customers about finding foreign material in a line of products you make. To address this using a specific objective in the context of your mission, you could target a reduction of foreign material complaints over a set time frame.
Measurable, meaningful, or motivational. An objective must be measurable to be effective. This objective focuses on setting up the system to measure achievement. If you target reducing foreign material complaints and findings in a line of products, you would not know if there is a reduction in the number of complaints without measuring the results over a set period of time. Establishing an effective measurement for that reduction of complaints will give you insight into whether you are making progress towards your objective and achieving the desired effect. For example, you could measure the number of complaints received on a monthly basis to track over time. If you received nine complaints in December, and then only three in March, you’d see that your efforts are paying off.
Attainable, achievable, acceptable, agreed upon, or action-oriented. The result you are trying to achieve must be attainable. If you set your sights on results that you cannot achieve, you will set yourself up for failure. This area focuses on your system being set up to achieve the objective, and not whether it is realistic or not. Does your system allow for the removal of foreign material, such as having an x-ray system, sieves or screens to find that material in your product stream? If your production system had no method for detecting or removing foreign material from your product stream, your objective would not be achievable or attainable.
Realistic, relevant, reasonable, responsible, or results-oriented. Your objective must be realistic. If you set your reduction of foreign material result to reducing complaints by 100 percent, you will likely fail as it only takes one complaint to break your objective. The amount of change or movement in your objective must be relevant, realistic and reasonable, with a person assigned to be responsible for achieving the end result. The desired change should make sense and allow you to exceed your desired result. For instance, setting the desired reduction in foreign material at a 25% reduction allows you to reasonably achieve the reduction. In this case, if your team reduces it by 50%, then you have far exceeded your goal. Your team can collaborate to come up with a realistic objective.
Time-Bound, timely, time-based, or trackable. Finally, the objective must be bound by a deadline or cut-off date for measuring the objective. If you do not assign a deadline or specific time period, the efforts will continue with no clear end, making the measuring of the objective much harder. Most companies have SMART objectives for each calendar year or fiscal year to align with their larger business goals. You can even break objectives down into smaller time frames to move towards the overall 25% reduction. Each quarter, you can have a desired reduction of at least 10 percent for customer complaints of foreign material, thus pushing your company to achieve a 40 percent yearly reduction while still allowing for some wiggle room in case there is a minor problem one quarter where you only experienced a five percent reduction.
Utilizing SMART objectives helps you achieve a more focused food safety and quality system, which leads to saving important resources such as time, product, and money. Making operations more effective also reduces frustration from employees. SMART Objectives help you move away from being a reactive organization to a more proactive one. Our team of safety and quality consultants can offer assistance with establishing and implementing SMART Objectives for your company. Contact us below to get started.
Meet the Author
Technical Consultant, Mérieux NutriSciences
Jeff Strout is a food safety trainer and consultant with extensive food industry experience as an auditor. Jeff educates on current and relevant topics and provides insight to the entire food industry for SQF, BRC, Food Defense, HACCP, Seafood HACCP as well as other areas of food safety and regulatory compliance.