Defining SMART Goals - What Does the SMART Acronym Stand For?
How to define SMART goals? Here is a quick and easy overview of the different variants. Discover your favorite and formulate perfect SMART goals in minutes.
There is an inconvenient truth about SMART goals. Everybody knows SMART , many people claim to use SMART, but nobody really knows how to use SMART correctly.
Of the people who use SMART goals, less than a third of the goals are typically SMART in practice. A real pitty, because our focus should be on achieving clear goals. Instead, our focus is distracted by incomplete and unclear goals.
Be honest. Did you ever feel uncomfortable when writing SMART goals? I did. I never quite knew when goals were formulated the SMART way or not. “Somehow, SMART is not so smart”, a marketer once told me. True.
Just think of the confusion about what the letters of the acronym stand for. Is it the A of “Assignable” or “Attainable”? Does the T stand for “Time-bound” or “Track-able”?
Despite this confusion, the frustrated marketer in question continued to use SMART goals. It shows the need for clearly defined goals is deeply rooted. The convenient truth about SMART is that clearly defined goals lead to better results.
Stop the confusion and unproductiveness
Unclearly defined goals lead to poor results, confusion and even unproductiveness. 71% of the marketing objectives are incomplete. There is no way the activities related to those objectives contribute positively to the strategic goals.
The symptoms of poorly defined objectives are easy to detect in daily life: teams end up in frequent last minute meetings going through spreadsheets and E-mails to figure out that the initial goal was in the first place. Or should I mention internal discussions about whether the team goals are met or not?
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We had a close look on what the different SMART definitions look like and how they are used. The outcome is a simple “agile style” checklist. Just imagine completing a simple checklist ensures your objectives are automatically formulated the SMART way. You create SMART goals without even thinking about the letters. How cool is that?
This would help tremendously to create a more productive and motivated team. No more discussions.
What does the SMART acronym stand for?
In 1981 a paper by George T. Doran was published in Management Review. It was called “ There's a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management's goals and objectives” . SMART goals and objectives as we now know them were first used in this article, according to research .
According to George T. Doran making objectives SMART means they need to be: Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic and Time-related. Completing the elements ensures you have got the basic goal definition right. They are not a guarantee for success, but unspecific objectives are a guarantee for suboptimal results.
• Specific – target a specific area for improvement.
• Measurable – quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress.
• Assignable – specify who will do it.
• Realistic – what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources.
• Time-related – specify when the result(s) can be achieved.
SMART goals made difficult
Over time some of the SMART letters were changed by different authors. Below are some examples. For a complete up to date list of acronym variants have a look here .
- Assignable got company from Attainable , Achievable or Agreed Upon .
- Realistic has alternatives such as Relevant and Results-focused .
- Time-related or Time-bound was accompanied by Trackable .
The result is that the acronym is harder to remember when defining goals. It is not clear and self-explanatory anymore. It requires extra discipline to write proper SMART goals.
In my opinion, the current practice of SMART goal setting is not intuitive enough. Goals are not trivial, but goal setting itself should be effortless. Defining a clear goal should happen in a matter of seconds. It should be un-upscrewably easy to define a marketing goal or objective.
SMART goal checklist for marketing goals and objectives
In collaboration with other marketers, and drawing from our previous research , we developed a SMART checklist for marketing goals & objectives. The research revealed which information should go into a marketing goal or objective. The SMART acronym enables us to systematically structure our goal formulation.
Specific – Target a specific area for improvement.
• Define achievement – What result needs to be achieved?
• Define customer – What is the audience, segment or Persona?
• Define proposition – What is the service, product or offer?
Measurable – Q uantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress.
• Define metric – What is the value and unit to track progress?
Assignable – Specify who will do it.
• Define owner - Who is accountable for delivering the output?
Realistic – State what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources.
• Define deliverable - What is the deliverable or output to achieve the result?
• Define effort – What are the resources required and available to deliver the output?
Time-related – Specify when the result can be achieved.
• Define date – When will the result (note: not output) be achieved?
Goal setting made un-upscrewably easy
The SMART goal checklist combines key marketing goal elements with the SMART acronym. If we put the checklist into an “agile” like syntax, we get a SMART goal syntax for marketing objectives.
In a previous blog post we shared the Definition of Success syntax. See the generic syntax and example below. If you specify owner and effort additionally, you will have an easy to remember checklist to make every marketing goal or objective SMART.
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What are smart goals acronym explained.
SMART is an acronym for S pecific, M easurable, A ssignable, R ealistic and T ime-Related. Businesses use SMART to help determine if a goal is viable. The concept was originally developed in 1981 as a way to write meaningful objectives. SMART goals are a popular project management technique.
Here’s What We’ll Cover:
What Are the Five SMART Goals?
Why are smart goals important, smart goals example, how do you write a smart goal, what does smarter goals stand for.
The five SMART goals are as follows:
What is the objective? Who are all the stakeholders involved?
How do we measure success, specifically?
A ssignable (sometimes listed as “Attainable” or “Achievable”)
Who will lead this initiative? Will this person have enough resources, including manpower, to make this project a success?
R ealistic (sometimes listed as “Relevant”).
Is the goal realistic, with the time and resources available? Does the project outcome align with the business model of the company?
When do we expect the intended result by?
The SMART acronym was first presented in 1981 by George T. Doran in a magazine article entitled “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write Management’s Goals and Objectives”.
SMART goals are important because they allow the management of a company to see if an objective can be obtained within a specific time period. This is before resources have been assigned or work has officially begun.
The act of writing goals down is also important. Studies have revealed that when goals are written down, they are more likely to be achieved.
To write a SMART goal, write out each word of the acronym down the left side of a blank page. Start with the word “Specific” and place the subsequent words underneath each other, in order.
Leave space on the right to fill in information next to each word.
For more on this, see the next section for an example.
Here is an example of SMART goals in action.
Cal’s Clothiers is a men’s clothing store in San Diego, California. Cal is attempting to increase the company’s email marketing open rate (open rate refers to the percentage of recipients who’ve opened an email they’ve received).
The SMART acronym has been expanded in some business circles, to include two more words on the end. SMARTER stands for:
Assignable (“Attainable” or “Achievable”)
Realistic (or “relevant”), time-related.
Management should evaluate periodically how the project is coming along, and if it still aligns with the original goal. These evaluations can and should be included in the project’s schedule. This will help to ensure the project’s success.
Readjust (also known as “Revisited”).
The stakeholders should be willing and able to readjust the plan, during the course of the project, in order to keep it on track. At the very minimum, stakeholders will learn what needs to be addressed earlier next time, should the project be repeated (this information should also be part of a post-mortem meeting).
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Manage Assignable Goals
Assignable Goals, are goals that can be assigned to an individual employee or a group of employees. These goals are a manager’s desired result for their team and are usually established ahead to direct employees in accomplishing specific tasks within a given time frame.
These goals can be aligned with corporate goals and can be designated as editable, if desired. The Assignable Goals feature allows organizations to easily align their organizational goals across teams.
In order to include goals in a review for evaluation purposes, active goals must be assigned to the employee before the review can be distributed. Managers can create a library of assigned goals. Once the goals are assigned to an employee, the goal becomes part of the employee's assigned goal plan on the employee's Goals page.
Goals must be inactive and undistributed to be deleted.
Assignable goals are defined on the Assignable Goals page.
Assignable goals are unique for each company; therefore, they must be established by the customer and are not system-delivered.
Assignable Goals Management
Managers can create a library of assignable goals that can be selected when goals are assigned to an employee in their individual Goals page.
Manage assignable goals using the Assignable Goals page.
The information that appears in the Assignable Goals page, includes the assignable goal title, description, assignments, editable, start date, due date, weight, and status. By default, active goals display in the Assignable Goals page. Use the Find By filter to display inactive goals.
Administrators or managers can:
- View Assignable Goals
- Add Assignable Goals
- Change Assignable Goals
- Delete Assignable Goals
- Assign or Remove Goals
- Change Goal Owner
Navigate to the Assignable Goals Page
Review the title, description, assignments, editable status, start date, due date, weight and goal status on the Assignable Goals page.
Navigation: Menu > My Team > Talent Management > Assignable Goals
- From the expanded navigation menu, select My Team .
Add or Change Assignable Goals
Add or change assignable goals on the Add/Change Assignable Goals page.
- To add an assignable goal, select Add .
- To change an assignable goal, select the applicable Assignable Goal link.
- At Description , enter a description for the goal. The goal description length can be up to 5,000 characters.
- At Category , select a goal category from the drop-down menu. The goal category is associated with the specified goal.
- At Weight , enter the percentage goal weight, if applicable.
- At Status , select whether the goal is Active or Inactive indicating if the goal is available for selection.
- At Goal Type , select a goal type from the drop-down menu. The goal type is associated with the specified goal.
- At the Corporate Goal Alignment drop-down menu, select a goal alignment, only if the goal is aligned with a corporate goal.
- At the Organizational Impact drop-down menu, select an organizational impact for the goal.
- Select This is a Stretch Goal , if applicable.
- Performance Reviews does not enforce these dates. Dates are for customer reference and tracking purposes only.
- Goal Start and Due dates can be set as required fields on the Change Talent Management Settings page (System Configuration > Talent Management > Edit).
- Goal Start and Due dates can be edited while a review is in progress.
- At the Editable by Employees section, select if an employee can edit this goal once it has been assigned to his/her goal plan.
- Select Save . The Assignable Goals page appears with the new information.
Assign Goals for Employees
Goals can be assigned to specific employees on the Assignable Goals page.
- From the Assignable Goals page, select the goals to assign and select the Assign icon. The Assign Goals page appears.
- Use the Find By filter to search for employees, then select the checkbox at one or more employees.
- Use the Select All or Deselect All links to select or deselect all employees in the list, even on multiple pages.
- Select Finish . The Assign Goals page appears with a list of the selected employees for assigning the goal.
Selecting the Goal Assignments link shows only employees you are qualified to view that are assigned to the goal. There may be other employees assigned to the goal.
Remove Goals Assigned to Employees
Goals that have been assigned to employees can be removed from employee assignment on the Assign Goals page.
Navigation: Menu > My Team > Talent Management > Assignable Goals > select Assignments link
- From the Assignable Goals page, select the Assignments link for the applicable goal. The Assign Goals page appears with the list of employees assigned to the goal.
- Select employees to whom you wish to remove the goal. Select the Remove icon.
- Only non-editable assigned goals can be removed from an employee's assigned goals. Editable goals assigned to an employee's goal plan cannot be removed.
- For information and steps on mass inactivating goals, refer to the Mass Inactivate Goals job aid.
Change a Goal Owner
Administrators can change the goal owner of one or more assignable goals on the Assignable Goals page.
Navigation: Menu > Administration > Talent Management > Performance Management > Assignable Goals
- At the Change Goal Owner page, search for a new goal owner. Select the applicable row of the new goals owner then select OK.
- The Assignable Goals page appears with the new owner assigned to the goals.
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- Best practice
How to set SMART Goals and Objectives
When you really think about it, setting a goal is just stating a desire to be in a better position than the one you’re in now. To be bigger. To have more customers. To be more profitable. However, the way you define and word your goals can drastically alter their meaning, and even change how useful they are.
Setting effective goals is about more than just describing your general aspirations. After all, there’s not much to separate a vaguely written goal from a wish. You need to write goals that can be scrutinized, refined, communicated – and most importantly – put into action.
By far, the most widely-used method for writing effective goals is the SMART Goals framework (even though it’s sometimes misunderstood). In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know to develop your own SMART Goals, as well as some of the common pitfalls you must avoid. We’ll also take you through some real SMART Goals examples, taken from the world of business.
SMART Goals is a method coined by George T. Doran in 1981. He proposed goals should be SMART, an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic and Time-related.
As acronyms go it’s arguably not that effective. Why? Because clearly not everyone could remember what each of the five letters stood for! You can see this from a quick Google search, which shows many variations on the same SMART acronym, using a combination of different words.
These include: Simple, Sensible, Significant, Meaningful, Motivating, Achievable, Agreed, Attainable, Relevant, Reasonable, Resourced, Results-based, Testable, Time-bound and Time-limited.
We’ll explain how to deal with these variations later in the article, as well as some other interesting evolutions of the acronym including SMARTER and SMART ASSES.
But for now, we’ll stick with the 1981 original – SMART.
Normally, when we set goals and objectives, we start with a strong idea of what it is we’re trying to do, which has been loosely defined.
- Grow the business
- Improve customer satisfaction
- Launch a new product
Although they do give a general sense of direction, goals written like this are hard to quantify, open to interpretation, and are therefore difficult to put into action. Instead we should aim to make goals Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic and Time-related. . This ensures we leave no doubt about exactly what it is we’re trying to achieve.
Here are the goals again, rewritten as SMART Goals:
- The new Sales team will increase revenue by 20% before the end of the financial year.
- Our CS team will maintain an average CSAT of 95% or above by Q2.
- Mike will design a new online course that is available to purchase by the end of June.
Notice these goals are more definitive. The test of a good SMART Goal is that it should be abundantly clear if you have achieved it or not.
It’s a common misconception that all goals should fulfill all five criteria of SMART. This will not always be possible or practical, particularly for goals that support wider objectives. Even the SMART Goals creator, George Doran, argued his method shouldn’t cause us to miss the benefit of more abstract goals.
You should use the SMART framework to strengthen and develop your goals, but don’t worry if SMART can’t be applied to every goal. You can always compensate for any weaknesses in your goal when you’re creating your action plan.
Most of the time, non-specific goals are the cause of confusion and inertia.
Take ‘grow the business’, for example.
We all know what the word ‘grow’ means, but in business, growth can actually be a vague term. Growth might mean an increase in revenue, profits, market share, orders, customers, investment, share price or something else.
Many of these metrics are independent of each other. That means it’s technically possible to increase customers without increasing revenue; increase revenue without increasing profit; or increase profit without increasing market share.
Furthermore, the same metric can often be defined in slightly different ways, this is especially the case when using different online tools and data sources. ‘Monthly Revenue’, as presented by your Finance Director, will likely be calculated differently to the ‘Monthly Revenue’ on your Shopify reports.
The point is, you should try to write your goals so they are not open to interpretation or debate. Use footnotes and additional definitions if necessary. And if you were not already clear, in your own mind, on what the focus of your goal should be – now is the time to pin it down. Because these subtle differences can have a profound impact on the tactics your team members use to achieve your goals.
Note there is a difference between being specific and being prescriptive .
Goals should be specific about the outcome you want. They should not be prescriptive about how to achieve it, unless it’s absolutely necessary. Otherwise your goal very quickly starts to become a plan, and this can stifle creative solutions.
If you can’t write your goal without being overly prescriptive, you should review whether or not it’s the right goal, or whether or not you are setting it at the right level. You might even consider splitting it up into a longer-term strategic goal, and shorter-term tactical goals.
- Non–specific : Increase customer satisfaction
- Specific : Increase our post-call CSAT score to 95%
- Prescriptive : Increase our post-call CSAT score to 95% by reducing the number of follow-up questions asked during each call.
Measurable goals help us to quantify what success actually looks like, so we can better plan how we’re going to get there. It should go without saying, but the metrics you set aren’t wishes, they should be rooted in evidence, experience or just plain common sense (see Realistic ).
Being measurable also gives you an opportunity to evaluate whether your goal is even worth pursuing in the first place. Imagine Tim, who is working on an outreach campaign that will cost $10k; it’s only when Tim calculates realistic success metrics he realizes the best case scenario for this campaign is $2k in new revenue. Writing measurable goals helps you to unearth these dead-ends before you start working on them, not after.
Ideally, when setting goals, you should measure performance or results, and not activity. Measuring performance, using Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), helps us understand our impact, which is the thing we care about most. Another way of saying this is: “measure in the output, not the input”.
So, instead of writing a goal that measures activity (the input):
- Create and publish 30 LinkedIn posts this month
You should think about the impact you are trying to create, and write a goal that includes a measure of the results (the output) instead:
- Achieve 100,000 impressions on LinkedIn this month
- Produce 50 new MQLs through LinkedIn this month
- Grow our LinkedIn following to 25,000 this month
However, you should be careful about setting targets, which are several steps removed from your activity. It would not be helpful if this same Social Media Manager wrote a goal saying her LinkedIn posts should result in an increase in total company revenue, or overall customer satisfaction.
That’s because 1) these secondary results are largely out of her control, even if she is partially contributing to them 2) these results are affected by too many other factors to be used as a good measure of performance for the activity she is measuring, and 3) these results take so long to materialize that they cannot realistically be used to create a useful feedback loop.
Sometimes it’s genuinely not possible to measure the performance of a goal with a KPI. Either because the result is too abstract or because the metrics you need aren’t available. In these cases, you might explore proxy metrics – these are related metrics, which you would expect to track closely to the metric you care about. Beware, bad proxies create their own issues.
Otherwise, it is fine to have results-based goals that don’t use KPIs. You just need to ensure you are reviewing quality and judging effectiveness in other ways.
In other words: who will be responsible for achieving this goal? Accountability for a goal can be held by one person, or a group of people (providing all members of the group acknowledge and understand they are collectively accountable). Sometimes, a goal is split into multiple goals, assigned to different people at different strategic levels. This is known as a cascading goal.
Of all the concepts in SMART, Assignable is probably the word most replaced in favor of alternatives (‘Achievable’, for example). Perhaps this is because it’s slightly reminiscent of an old-fashioned style of management, where goals are dictated by managers, in a top-down manner.
More recent thinking suggests goal setting works best when it’s led by the person responsible for achieving the goal. This creates more ownership, and encourages intrinsic motivation.
Nevertheless, there are a number of benefits to a goal being assignable, or at least ‘owned’.
- In instances where two different teams are working towards the same goal. Deciding where accountability lies prevents the ‘silo problem’ where teams might pull in different directions.
- It helps you to appraise whether or not the goal is fair, and can realistically be owned by that person. For example, it wouldn’t be fair to let a junior member of the team set a goal that requires them to influence areas outside their control.
- In instances where a team decides on a goal, but nobody takes ownership. Unassigned goals are not very likely to be progressed, and may as well be on a wishlist
In general, setting unrealistic goals is demotivating.
People who come to work each day, knowing they are never going to achieve their targets, eventually start to ignore them. It becomes as if you had never set the goal in the first place. Realistic goals, on the other hand, are far more likely to become part of everyday thinking and team culture.
Realistic goals also help others approach their longer term planning decisions with confidence. “We feel like we can invest in this new hire now, because Laura is confident her team will hit next quarter’s revenue targets”.
Furthermore, a realistic appraisal of your goals allows you to make better strategic decisions, at a time when those decisions can still make an impact. This might include allocating extra resources, developing new skills or deprioritising other tasks.
And yet, there are still many businesses who recommend Stretch Goals , Moonshots , and Big Hairy Audacious Goals , making the argument that big (even slightly unrealistic) goals can be inspiring.
There are good reasons for this. In part, they are guarding against two common pitfalls of goal-setting – learned helplessness and sandbagging:
- Learned helplessness is when you incorrectly assume something is out of your control, based on previous experiences, even if the conditions have changed. For example, if a small team grows into a big team, but continues to hold a ‘small team mindset’.
- Sandbagging is when people lower the bar to set targets they know they’ll easily hit. This results in unrealised potential, and is particularly dangerous when applied to high-level or long term goals, because it can sap momentum.
How high you aim will likely depend on your team culture and outlook. But even BHAGs and stretch goals should be there to do just that – stretch. Not be the stuff of fantasy. Ask yourself, where, as a manager, do you see the bigger risk – lowballing your ambitions, or damaging morale from failing to achieve your goals?
One way to create more realistic goals is to use internal or external benchmarks.
For internal benchmarking, look at your previous attempts to achieve a similar goal. How did you do? Taking everything into consideration, what would be a realistic goal for next time?
For external benchmarking, you can compare yourself to industry standards. Customer Satisfaction and Net Promoter Scores are examples of metrics with well-documented industry averages. Be careful, however. Context is key. There will be many instances where an external benchmark will not be appropriate for your company, or even your industry.
You should only use external benchmarks if the source is transparent about the sample of companies used, and how the metrics are calculated (some reports use different calculations). There are also some metrics for which benchmarking is never appropriate, because it’s too affected by other factors. A website's conversion rate would be an example.
Is being time-related just the same as saying your goal should have a deadline?
As well as helping to set expectations and assess realisticness, time-related goals are obviously important if your goals have dependencies – other people who are planning their own goals, based on how quickly you can achieve yours.
Beyond these practicalities, deadlines can also be important for motivation (particularly if the stakes are high) as well as creating a natural point in time to reflect on your success and failures, and review your approach for the future.
Over the years, many have proposed alternative versions of SMART, using different words. (Perhaps they thought the acronym could be improved, or maybe they just misremembered it!)
One of the most common alternatives today is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-based . Achievable is just a synonym for Realistic, so the major difference between this version of SMART and the original is that Assignable has been replaced by Relevant.
Questioning if a goal is Relevant is certainly worthwhile – particularly as most goals are designed to support some wider purpose or mission. And as we discussed, Assignable is sometimes associated with micromanagement, so it’s understandable why this has been replaced.
You will also sometimes see SMARTER being used, or you may have even seen Geckoboard’s contribution: SMART ASSES . Here, it’s just the same concept, but covering important areas that the original SMART misses.
Remember the SMART Goals framework isn’t some precise, scientific concept. (In fact, it first emerged as a short article in Management Review.) We use it because it helps us think critically about our goals, and how they can be improved. If you want to make your goals Simple, Motivating, Agreed-upon, Relevant, Testable, or any other adjective you can think of, that’s fine. It’s all about making your goals stronger.
Just be careful not to use a SMART acronym that contains synonyms: like Achievable and Realistic, or Testable and Measurable. You will confuse your team members, tying them in knots, because they will assume the different words mean different things.
When we take each aspect of the SMART Goals framework, we can see it is entirely compatible with OKRs
- Specific : OKRs are designed to take big ambitious Objectives and pin down exactly what we mean by them, in the form of Key Results.
- Measurable : Each Key Result should be measurable (usually on a scale of 1-10)
- Assignable : OKRs are created and owned by people at every level of the organization.
- Realistic : Because OKRs are designed to be aspirational, they are definitely on the more ‘ambitious' end of the spectrum. (It’s often said that if you always achieve all of your Key Results, then you are not setting them correctly.) However, with OKRs, it's a very conscious decision to be ambitious. This means it doesn’t create unfair or unrealistic expectations.
- Time-related : OKRs are designed to cover a short time frame – they are often set quarterly, not annually.
Here are some real examples of SMART Goals, mainly taken from the world of business. In each example, you can see how the writer has thought carefully about the wording of each goal, to produce clear definitive goals that are not up for interpretation or debate.
But even seemingly well-written goals like these are only SMART when used in the right way.
Many of the metrics used, such as MAU or Revenue, are only specific if they’re supported by strong definitions showing exactly how those metrics are calculated. Also, a metric like Brand Awareness might well be measurable for an FMCG company running regular Brand Tracking research, but probably not for a small startup.
And of course, it’s impossible to tell whether any of these goals are realistic without knowing more about the person who set them.
Examples of SMART business goals
- The Founder will secure $3 million in VC funding before the end of the year.
- Achieve $10k in Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR) in our first year of operations.
- Increase our number of Monthly Active Users (MAU) to 20,000 by 1 September.
Examples of SMART sales goals
- Miriam will bring in £300,000 worth of revenue this financial year.
- Every week, the outreach team will pass on at least 50 new leads who are expressing purchase intent.
- This month, the sales team will sell all remaining winter season stock, for over $30K.
Examples of SMART finance goals
- This financial year, the company will increase its cash reserves to $4 million.
- By the end of the month, the Invoicing Manager will reduce the number of debtors (with payments overdue by 30 days or more) from $99k to less than $50k.
- This year, the Finance Director will reduce the average time taken to report on MI requests from 5 days to 2 days.
Examples of SMART marketing goals
- Increase brand awareness in the 18-25 year old University Student segment, from 17% to 30% by the end of the year.
- Grow our LinkedIn following from 10,345 to 15,000 by the end of next quarter.
- This quarter, increase trialists signing up through our website by 10%.
Examples of SMART personal goals
- Be able to run a marathon in under 3 hours by next year.
- Visit 50 US states before I turn 60.
- Pass my driving test before we go on our honeymoon.
Before you set your goals, you have to have a clear strategy, so we’d recommend these books first:
- Good Strategy/Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt — a jargon-free guide that explains what strategy is and isn’t
- Lean Analytics by Alistair Croll and Benjamin Yoskovitz — a practical guide on how to break your strategy into things that can be measured
And once you start setting your goals, these books are full of practical advice:
- Measure What Matters by John Doerr — case-studies from famous companies who’ve used OKRs for explosive growth
- Practical Performance Measurement by Stacey Barr — if you go for KPIs, this is the ultimate guide along with the Measure Up blog
- The Practice of Management by Peter Drucker — fundamental principles for management by objectives, with a great explanation of why teams should own their goals
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Smart goals - how to set them and how to reach them
What are smart goals, and how can HR help the organization set and achieve them? We'll show you how the right tools help you drive performance and engagement.
Table of Contents
Smart goals – definition, benefits of smart goals.
How to get started with smart goals
Tracking and follow-up
Eletive and smart goals.
SMART is a clever acronym for S pecific, M easurable, A ssignable, R ealistic, and T ime-related.
The goal should be clear and concrete, and within a well-defined area.
The goal should be quantifiable so that the result can be measured.
The goal should be possible to assign to an owner.
It should be possible and realistic to reach the goal.
There should be a clear time-frame and deadline.
The purpose of S.M.A.R.T goals is to make sure the goals you set are meaningful and relevant.
There are a number of benefits with using smart goals, such as:
Smart goals provide clarity
With clearly and thoughtfully defined goals, the risk of miscommunication and misunderstandings is reduced.
Performance assessment is easier
With clear, quantifiable, and timebound goals it becomes obvious if they were reached or not.
Smart goals make prioritization easier
With clear objectives it becomes apparent which parts of the organization are contributing to reaching them, and where the focus is on the wrong things.
To get the most out of your smart goals, tracking and follow-up are equally important as planning. One-on-ones with each team member is a good forum for continuously evaluating progress, and for checking if they need to be adjusted.
Smart goals are a really great tool for ensuring that everyone in the organization are pulling in the same, and the right, direction. HR plays an important part in enabling smart goal-setting, by putting some of the processes and tools in place.
Eletive offers a solution that allows you to bring smart goals, performance management , and employee engagement surveys into one, unified platform . This provides your organization with the optimal foundation for setting the right goals – and achieving them.
Would you like to learn more about how your organization can benefit from a modern People Success Platform? Talk to one of our experts!
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How to Write SMART Goals: SMART Goal Examples
While it’s always a good idea to put together project goals, the approach that you take to do so is important. Simply choosing goals because you think you should or those that are particularly difficult to track and measure don’t do a good job of keeping you on track throughout the project. This is why SMART goals are so effective.
What Are SMART Goals?
SMART is a mnemonic acronym that establishes criteria for ideal goals and objectives in a project . SMART stands for specific, measurable, assignable, realistic and time-related. This means that a goal must meet these criteria to be considered a SMART goal.
SMART goals help project managers, business managers and any other types of team leaders define clear objectives that should be accomplished by their teams. Best of all, SMART goals can be used to measure the effectiveness of virtually any project or task.
Within that simple set of criteria is a guide to help teams be more productive, while always keeping goals in mind. Without goals, there is no focus, and without focus the chance of successfully completing a project is slim.
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SMART Goals Template
Use this free SMART Goals Template for Word to manage your projects better.
How to Write SMART Goals
Now that SMART is clearly defined, how do you write SMART goals? Well, it should be obvious now that the process starts with asking a lot of questions. Pose questions to yourself, your team and even stakeholders . The answers to these questions will whittle down your options and sharpen your strategy. From there, goals will become clear and attainable.
1. Make Your Goal Specific
Begin by defining what it is that you’re trying to achieve. Be specific. Ask the five Ws: who, what, why, where and which. For example:
- Who is going to be involved in achieving this goal?
- What project management tools will they need to accomplish it?
- Why is the goal important?
- Where will the work be located?
- Which resources are needed to do it?
The more you can focus on the specifics, the more achievable the goal.
2. Make Your Goal Measurable
In order for a goal to be SMART, it must be measurable, and to track your progress toward your goal, you have to know how to measure it. That keeps you on track and motivates you to finish on time. So, in order to be successful, you need to regularly monitor and assess your progress.
Also, you have to know how to tell when you’ve reached that goal, so as not to waste time once it’s already been achieved. Basically, you must set up metrics to measure your progress. Project milestones can help break up a timeline if a project extends over some months.
3. Make Your Goal Achievable
There’s no point in having and measuring a goal that’s impossible to achieve. Therefore, another criterion for a SMART goal is discerning if the goal you’ve defined is realistic. You want to reach beyond what you think is possible (because nothing is achieved by playing it safe), but not so far that the project comes crashing down on top of you.
You must know your project resources well, and ask if this goal can be accomplished considering the constraints under which you’re working, which include scheduling and costs.
4. Make Your Goal Relevant
The goal is now defined, measurable and achievable, but is it relevant? A SMART goal has to be relevant, and that doesn’t mean just to you but should be aligned with the larger goals of the organization.
That means your goal, even after meeting all the prior criteria, must align with other relevant goals because success requires support and assistance from everyone on the project team . It must work in tandem with other parts of the project and the overall strategy of the organization.
This creates a whole new set of questions such as, is the goal worthwhile? Maybe the time isn’t right. Does it match other needs? Maybe you’re not the right person to lead this initiative, or maybe it’s not aligned with current economics or social trends. If it offers the right answers to these questions, then it’s relevant.
5. Make Your Goal Time-Bound
A SMART goal will always be time-related because goals often cannot be achieved without a deadline. A deadline serves as a great motivator and can provide context for you to recognize the various tasks necessary to reach that goal in the time allotted. Therefore, giving the goal time constraints helps keep you on track.
Naturally, you must answer questions, such as: when must the goal be achieved? Then get more specific; is that in six months, six weeks, six days? Without a time frame, you can’t devise a plan , and the goal will never be realized.
Free SMART Goals Template
Ready to make your own SMART goals? Download this free SMART goals template for Word and then read through the examples below for some inspiration.
5 SMART Goals Examples
It’s one thing to write about SMART goals and another thing to actually use them. That’s why we’re going to share five SMART goals examples to provide a fuller understanding of the concept.
1. Project Management SMART Goal Example
Scope creep is when more features are added to a project during the execution phase, which can have a negative impact on the project’s schedule and budget.
Specific: Speak with stakeholders and get them to give you all the requirements so that you’re not surprised down the line when they say they’ve forgotten something. Measurable: Be sure that each of the requirements they request can be measured. That is, each requirement should be tested and then checked off the list. Achievable: Look over the list of requirements. If some are not realistic then go back to the stakeholder and tell them why it’s not feasible considering the time and costs involved. Relevant: Again, look over the list of requirements you received from your stakeholders and make sure each is relevant to the product. If it’s not, it’s got to go. Time-related: Can the requirements requested be completed by the deadline? Will the requirement lead to overspending the budget ? Unless the requirement can be delivered on time and within budget it should be removed.
2. Business SMART Goal Example
Businesses are always trying to expand and add to their profits. One way to do this is by acquiring more clients.
Specific: Decide how many new clients to add to your business. One might not impact your bottom line and 100 will likely just lead to frustration. Find the number that’s right for your business. Measurable: Set up a metric to measure the success of your campaign to acquire new clients. This way you’ll be able to know if you’re in fact delivering on your goal or not. Achievable: Again, be realistic. How many resources can you allocate to this endeavor without negatively impacting your business? There’s a sweet spot and you want to hit it. Relevant: You’ll also want to make sure that the clients you’re wooing are a good fit for the business. If you partner with someone who isn’t it will not serve them or you. Time-related: Have a deadline, whether that’s adding x amount of new clients by the end of the quarter or the year. Then stick to it.
3. Manufacturing SMART Goal Example
A manufacturer wants to reduce breakdowns on their machines.
Specific: Decide if this is a factory-wide effort or if there are specific machines that are always breaking down and need special attention. Measurable: Have metrics to track machines’ performance to see if the measure used to reduce downtime due to mechanical failure is in fact working. Achievable: Maybe a factory-wide maintenance is unrealistic and will cut into production or perhaps you have the resources to address all machines on your production line. Determine what can be done without a negative impact on the business. Relevant: Look at the big picture and decide if a factory shutdown to replace or repair machines is necessary or if there can be a less disruptive approach, maybe over phases. Time-related: Define a project timeline . The last thing you want is to keep it open-ended.
4. Construction SMART Goal Example
A construction company has razor-thin profit margins because they budget projects with their profit included, but in executing the project they always end up spending more, which cuts into their profits.
Specific: Decide on what the goal is. It could be to find inefficiencies or to complete work faster. But whatever it is, make the goal specific. Measurable: Find the key performance indicators (KPIs) that will help you track your projects and identify those areas that are underperforming. Then as you implement solutions, you can measure whether they’re in fact working. Achievable: Don’t create a goal that you can’t keep. Maybe you want to only gain 10 percent more profitability. Whatever is achievable should be your goal. Relevant: You might have to revise your goal as you determine what is relevant to your company. If you change the project estimates , for example, it might make you less competitive in the market. Time-related: Set a realistic timeframe for achieving your goals. You don’t want it to be too long nor should it be too short. Find the deadline that will allow you to make the effort without turning it into an impossible task.
5. Marketing SMART Goal Example
Let’s say I wanted to increase my content output in the marketing department of my business. I would write my SMART goal like this, “Frank and Caroline (the content team) will need to work together to create 3 more eBooks per month, for the next 6 months.”
Specific: This is an important project because eBooks can collect emails, creating warm leads. Frank and Caroline will collaborate using Google Docs. They can use Meeting Room B on Tuesdays and Thursdays before 10 am. Measurable: It’s easy to measure if 3 eBooks are created each month. They simply have to compile a short report and submit it to the manager with links to each of the 3 new eBooks. Achievable: This is an aggressive goal, given how much work goes into an eBook, but it’s certainly attainable. Relevant: I’ll ensure this project stays relevant by keeping the eBook content related to the business. As a safeguard, I’ll make sure that a product expert approves the eBook topic before Frank and Caroline begin writing it. Time-related: By requiring that all 3 eBooks are done by the end of the month, this goal is time-related. Additionally, my content team knows they have to do this for 6 months, so they know exactly how many eBooks they need to create.
Be Flexible With Your SMART Goals if Needed
All this information will combine to help you define and reach SMART goals. But, remember, the SMART criteria is not chiseled in stone. It can be flexible and is open to revision as needed. So, monitor and evaluate key metrics as your project progresses to make sure that the goal you set is in fact smart!
Turn Goals Into Action With ProjectManager
Defining your goals and objectives before starting a project is smart. Determining that those goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-related is SMARTer! Once you’re ready to take action, using a project management tool is the smartest. ProjectManager is an award-winning software that helps turn your goals and objectives into a reality.
Lay It Out on a Gantt Chart
Use the Gantt tool to add a duration to each task—once done, our software will populate a timeline for the entire project. You can link dependent tasks to avoid bottlenecks. Add priority and other tags to make the tasks easy to search and find. Then break the project into phases, which makes it easier to track, by adding milestones.
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One-click reports get deeper into the data, which can be filtered and shared with stakeholders, who have a vested interest in seeing the project succeed. Smart goals and objectives need a smart project management tool.
To successfully use SMART as a method to d etermine the feasibility of your goals, you’ll need project management software that can help at every stage of your project. ProjectManager is an online tool that has planning, scheduling and reporting features that help managers create and complete SMART goals. See for yourself with this free 30-day trial.
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The first mention of SMART goals was in a 1981 paper by George T. Doran titled There’s a S.M.A.R.T. Way to Write Management’s Goals and Objectives . The following terms defined the acronym:
- Specific – The goal identifies a particular area to improve.
- Measurable – The goal must be quantifiable with a clear indicator of progress.
- Assignable – The goal must identify who will perform the action necessary to reach the objective.
- Realistic – Given the available time and resources, the goal must be able to be realistically achieved.
- Time-related – The results must be achieved by a specific time.
Let’s take a more in-depth look at other definitions of what makes a goal SMART .
We’ve already covered specific as the original description for the first letter of the SMART acronym. However, an alternative uses strategic to define the letter S. Other versions list sensible, significant, and simple. No matter which definition you choose to adopt, the result must be easily understood and leave no room for ambiguity.
To help you arrive at a specific objective, you should answer the following questions:
- What are we trying to accomplish?
- Why is this important for us?
- Who should perform the actions required to achieve the goal?
- Where does it take place?
- Which resources, time constraints, or other details are required?
The most used description of this part of the acronym is measurable . You must measure how much or how many of something is required to achieve your goal, and how you will know when you have succeeded. An alternate descriptor is motivating . It is highly motivating to a team to see the marker move closer to the goal as you approach the deadline.
While you still have to have quantifiable actions, goals, and results, it makes sense that motivating is an alternative. After all, what could be more demotivating than working toward a goal you never can tell is achieved? For example, the pursuit of gaining a greater social media following should be easy to measure. However, it will be difficult to keep your team focused if they don’t know how they are progressing or whether they get to celebrate their success at 100, 1,000, or 10,000 new followers.
SMART goals have to be attainable or achievable . Other descriptions include assignable, agreed, action-oriented, ambitious, or aligned with corporate goals. Just as “being measurable” helps motivate the team to action, the plan must be achievable to keep the team focused and engaged. A relatable example is starting the new year with a goal to lose weight.
Unfortunately, many goals fail because they weren’t structured for success. In our New Year’s resolution example, an unrealistic goal would be to lose 25 pounds by Valentine’s Day by eating nothing but soup and working out for at least two hours per day, seven days per week. In contrast, an achievable SMART goal might be to make healthier food choices and commit to working out 45 minutes at least four times per week to lose 25 pounds by the 4th of July. Without attainable expectations, the goal will likely fail.
Options used to define the R in SMART include realistic , relevant , resourced , reasonable , and results-based . Regardless of the one that resonates with your organization, they all point to the importance of understanding the answers to essential questions that could indicate whether it is reasonable to move forward. Many influences could derail an otherwise reasonable goal. Without asking the right questions, you could unknowingly be setting yourself, your team, or your organization up for failure.
For instance, does the goal fit with the corporate objectives? If it is worthwhile, is this the right time to work toward it? Do we have the right people to resource it within the allotted time? Are there any social, economic, or public health issues that would prevent us from being successful?
Would you work in a job where they did not tell you what was considered a workweek or when you would get paid? Would you ever have worked toward a degree if you had no idea how long you had to study to graduate? Whether your organization chooses time-based , time-oriented , time-sensitive , timely , time-limited , time-sensitive , timeframe , or even testable or trackable , it all comes back to having a clear endpoint where you can assess whether you have achieved the goal.
For example, suppose your marketing department has a goal to increase online revenue by 30% . There is no way to determine whether it is achievable or realistic without a timeline. The difference between a deadline of six weeks or six months determines your likelihood of success.
Make Your Goals SMART
SMART goals can be defined in many ways, but the principles behind them remain the same regardless of which alternative for the acronym you choose. The purpose of making your goals SMART is to be as specific as possible. By carefully considering what you want to improve, as well as how and when to do it, you will increase your chances for success.
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When are SMART goals not-so-smart?
The most recent evolution of the Evidence-Based Management Guide (EBM) introduced three kinds of goals:
- A Strategic Goal , which is something important that the organization would like to achieve. This goal is so big and far away, with many uncertainties along the journey that the organization must use empiricism. Because the Strategic Goal is aspirational and the path to it is uncertain, the organization needs a series of practical targets, like
- Intermediate Goals , achievements of which will indicate that the organization is on the path to its Strategic Goal . The path to the Intermediate Goal is often still somewhat uncertain, but not completely unknown.
- Immediate Tactical Goals , critical near-term objectives toward which a team or group of teams will work help toward Intermediate Goals.
SMART describes a set of criteria that are frequently applied to goals, asserting that goals should be:
- Specific – target a specific area for improvement.
- Measurable – quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress.
- Assignable – specify who will do it.
- Realistic – state what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources.
- Time-related – specify when the result(s) can be achieved.
SMART goals have permeated many organizations, with many people accepting that a good goal must meet the SMART criteria. But is this really always a good approach?
In our work, we have found that good goals are always specific and measurable ; if they are not, they cannot provide useful targets toward which organizations can work. Vague goals whose achievement cannot be measured are merely empty aspirations. But the other SMART criteria are, in our opinion, outdated and even dangerous because they encourage a simplistic and short-sighted approach to management.
In a complex world, however, an organization will rarely know whether achievement of a goal is realistic; it is often not possible to know whether a goal is achievable without learning more about the problem. Consider the case of mitigating the effects of a newly discovered disease: it is not possible to know, exactly, if this is possible, but that does not mean that the goal is a poor one, only that more needs to be learned to know if the problem is solvable.
It is similarly impossible, when dealing with complex problems, to know when a goal can be achieved because so much is unknown; only simple problems can be solved predictably enough to put their solution on a schedule. But most ambitious goals worth pursuing are not governed by simple cause-and-effect relationships; they require experimentation and analysis to uncover possible causes and alternative solutions before anyone can determine when the goal might be achieved.
A solution to this problem is to shorten the time-scale for the goal. Strategic goals are hardly ever simple enough to predict when they can be achieved, but an Intermediate goal is sometimes narrow enough to be somewhat certain about its achievement, and a Tactical goal whose time-scale is measured in a month or less is sufficiently constrained that its achievement, while not assured, should at least be reasonably expected.
Scrum talks about two types of goals: Sprint Goals and Product Goals. Since Sprint Goals are very short-term, tactical goals, it makes sense for them to be time-boxed, but Product Goals, which are usually Intermediate Goals, are not time-boxed. Product Goals can also be Strategic Goals, but more typically an organization will have a variety of products and services, each with their own goals that in turn contribute to a broader, more ambitious Strategic Goal.
In some interpretations, the “A” in SMART says that goals should be assignable, while in others the “A” says that goals should be attainable . We prefer to ignore the attainable interpretation since attainable is the same as realistic , which we have discussed above.
At the foundation of Scrum is the empowered, self-managing team of people who have the freedom to make their own decisions about which work they take on, which means, for us, the goals they agree to, as well as being free to decide how they do that work.
Strategic Goals typically apply to the whole organization, not just a team or an individual. Intermediate goals are typically taken on by teams or groups of teams, but they are not assigned to those teams so much as they are created by those teams as goals that they believe they need to achieve in order to make progress toward the Strategic Goal. They may be influenced by stakeholders, as is the case in forming Product Goals, but Intermediate Goals are best determined collaboratively, guided by both top-down strategy as well as bottom-up intelligence.
Tactical goals are the domain of the team. In the context of Scrum, the Scrum Team together to determine the Sprint Goal. The Sprint Goal helps to guide the day-to-day decisions of the team, as well as setting an achievement target toward which the team works.
While all goals should be specific and measurable, forcing them to be assignable, realistic, and time-related can result in goals that are short-sighted and tactical when they should be ambitious and strategic. Making them assignable can disempower teams, removing their autonomy and dampening their commitment and creativity.
Goal setting is an opportunity for collaboration and alignment around important goals. It’s a chance to discuss, refine, and sometimes refocus based on feedback. In a complex world, engaging everyone in seeking toward better goals using feedback to inspect and adapt helps organizations to improve the quality and value of the outcomes they provide to their customers
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Article • 12 min read
How to make your goals achievable.
By the Mind Tools Content Team
- SMART goals are S pecific, M easurable, A chievable, R elevant, and T ime-bound.
- They allow you to write goals that are clear, attainable and meaningful.
- Having clarity in your goal-setting provides the motivation and focus you need to be successful.
The trouble with not having a goal is that you can spend your life running up and down the field and never score.– Bill Copeland
Do you ever feel like you're working hard but not getting anywhere? Maybe you see little improvement in your skills or achievements when you reflect on the last five or 10 years. Or perhaps you struggle to see how you'll fulfill your ambitions during the next few years.
Many people spend their lives drifting from one job to another, or rushing around trying to get more done while actually accomplishing very little. Setting SMART goals means you can clarify your ideas, focus your efforts, use your time and resources productively, and increase your chances of achieving what you want in life.
In this article, we'll explore what SMART goals are, and we'll look at how you can use them to achieve your objectives.
Learn how to set SMART goals with our video and transcript .
What Are SMART Goals?
SMART is an acronym that you can use to guide your goal setting. To make sure your goals are clear and reachable, each one should be:
- S pecific (simple, sensible, significant).
- M easurable (meaningful, motivating).
- A chievable (agreed, attainable).
- R elevant (reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based).
- T ime bound (time-based, time limited, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive).
Its criteria are commonly attributed to Peter Drucker's Management by Objectives concept. The first known use of the term occurs in the November 1981 issue of Management Review by George T. Doran. Since then, Professor Robert S. Rubin (Saint Louis University) wrote about SMART in an article for The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology. He stated that SMART has come to mean different things to different people, as shown above.
Professor Rubin also notes that the definition of the SMART acronym may need updating to reflect the importance of efficacy and feedback. However, some authors have expanded it to include extra focus areas; SMARTER, for example, includes E valuated and R eviewed.
What Are the SMART Criteria?
How to Write a SMART Goal
Paul J. Meyer, businessman, author and founder of Success Motivation International , describes the characteristics of SMART goals in his 2003 book, " Attitude Is Everything: If You Want to Succeed Above and Beyond ." We'll expand on his definitions to explore how to create, develop and achieve your goals:
Your goal should be clear and specific, otherwise you won't be able to focus your efforts or feel truly motivated to achieve it. When drafting your goal, try to answer the five "W" questions:
- What do I want to accomplish?
- Why is this goal important?
- Who is involved?
- Where is it located?
- Which resources or limits are involved?
Imagine that you are currently a marketing executive, and you'd like to become head of marketing. A specific goal could be, "I want to gain the skills and experience necessary to become head of marketing within my organization, so that I can build my career and lead a successful team."
It's important to have measurable goals, so that you can track your progress and stay motivated. Assessing progress helps you to stay focused, meet your deadlines, and feel the excitement of getting closer to achieving your goal.
A measurable goal should address questions such as:
- How will I know when it is accomplished?
You might measure your goal of acquiring the skills to become head of marketing by determining that you will have completed the necessary training courses and gained the relevant experience within five years' time.
Your goal also needs to be realistic and attainable to be successful. In other words, it should stretch your abilities but still remain possible. When you set an achievable goal, you may be able to identify previously overlooked opportunities or resources that can bring you closer to it.
An achievable goal will usually answer questions such as:
- How can I accomplish this goal?
- How realistic is the goal, based on other constraints, such as financial factors?
You might need to ask yourself whether developing the skills required to become head of marketing is realistic, based on your existing experience and qualifications. For example, do you have the time to complete the required training effectively? Are the necessary resources available to you? Can you afford to do it?
Beware of setting goals that someone else has power over. For example, "Get that promotion!" depends on who else applies, and on the recruiter's decision. But "Get the experience and training that I need to be considered for that promotion" is entirely down to you.
This step is about ensuring that your goal matters to you, and that it also aligns with other relevant goals. We all need support and assistance in achieving our goals, but it's important to retain control over them. So, make sure that your plans drive everyone forward, but that you're still responsible for achieving your own goal.
A relevant goal can answer "yes" to these questions:
- Does this seem worthwhile?
- Is this the right time?
- Does this match our other efforts/needs?
- Am I the right person to reach this goal?
- Is it applicable in the current socio-economic environment?
You might want to gain the skills to become head of marketing within your organization, but is it the right time to undertake the required training, or work toward additional qualifications? Are you sure that you're the right person for the head of marketing role? Have you considered your partner's goals? For example, if you want to start a family, would completing training in your free time make this more difficult?
Every goal needs a target date, so that you have a deadline to focus on and something to work toward. This part of the SMART goal criteria helps to prevent everyday tasks from taking priority over your longer-term goals.
A time-bound goal will usually answer these questions:
- What can I do six months from now?
- What can I do six weeks from now?
- What can I do today?
Gaining the skills to become head of marketing may require additional training or experience, as we mentioned earlier. How long will it take you to acquire these skills? Do you need further training, so that you're eligible for certain exams or qualifications? It's important to give yourself a realistic time frame for accomplishing the smaller goals that are necessary to achieving your final objective.
Used with Permission from The Meyer Resource Group,® Inc.
The Pros and Cons of SMART Goals
SMART is an effective tool that provides the clarity, focus and motivation you need to achieve your goals. It can also improve your ability to reach them by encouraging you to define your objectives and set a completion date. SMART goals are also easy to use by anyone, anywhere, without the need for specialist tools or training.
Various interpretations of SMART have meant that it can lose its effectiveness or be misunderstood. Some people believe that SMART doesn't work well for long-term goals because it lacks flexibility, while others suggest that it might stifle creativity. For more information on the potential weaknesses of SMART, see our article, Locke's Goal-Setting Theory .
Frequently Asked Questions About SMART Goals
What does smart stand for.
SMART stands for S pecific, M easurable, A chievable, R elevant, and T ime-bound.
What’s an example of a SMART Goal?
Let’s say you’re a marketing executive, and you think you'd like to become head of marketing. This is a specific goal. You might measure your goal of gaining the skills to become head of marketing by deciding it will take five years. Ask yourself whether gaining these skills is achievable , based on your existing experience and qualifications. Are you at the right point in your career? Is it relevant to what you want? Give yourself a realistic time frame for accomplishing the smaller goals that are necessary to achieving your final objective.
How do I write a SMART goal plan?
- Start by asking exactly what you need to accomplish. This will make your goal specific.
- Quantify your goals. Measurable goals are easier to track, so build in milestones.
- Your goal should be achievable. Is this something you can do with the resources at your disposal?
- Think why you’re setting this goal. How will it improve your life or career? This is what makes it relevant.
- Know exactly when you’ll have reached your goal. Have a firm schedule, and stick to it.
For other goal-setting resources, see our articles, Golden Rules of Goal-Setting , Using Well-Formed Outcomes in Goal Setting , Personal Goal Setting , and Treasure Mapping .
SMART is a well-established tool that you can use to plan and achieve your goals. While there are a number of interpretations of the acronym's meaning, the most common one is that goals should be S pecific, M easurable, A chievable, R elevant, and T ime-bound.
When you use SMART, you can create clear, attainable and meaningful goals, and develop the motivation, action plan, and support needed to achieve them.
Rubin, R. (2002). Will the Real SMART Goals Please Stand Up? [online]. Available here . [Accessed January 27, 2016.]
Meyer, Paul J. (2003). " Attitude Is Everything: If You Want to Succeed Above and Beyond ." Waco, TX: Meyer Resource Group.
Haughey, D. (2014). A Brief History of SMART Goals [online]. Available here . [Accessed January 27, 2016.]
Smart Goals Guide, (2014). Why Goal Setting Is Important [online]. Available here . [Accessed January 27, 2016.]
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Goal setting is an undeniably important step on the road to achievement, be it personal, or in the workplace. Goals serve four basic functions : providing guidance and direction, facilitating planning, motivating and inspiring employees, and helping evaluate and control performance. As a manager, it’s vital to set goals for your team or make sure they have their own goals to strive towards. This is not only to ensure they’re working towards company success but also that they are motivated and committed in terms of the tasks they’re completing.
It can, however, be questionable how useful and well thought-out some goals are. If you set goals that are unrealistically high, they can be demotivating, leading to failure. They become equally problematic when they’re aimed too low so people feel they have nothing to strive for.
Having useful, productive goals in place can make all the difference when creating a team which works both as individuals and together toward clear, established aims. Those without clearly outlined goals can encounter problems. That’s where you, as their manager, can step in and help your employees set attainable, yet challenging goals.
Setting achievable goals
With SMART goals , you can be sure that you’re setting attainable and achievable benchmarks that can lead to your development and success, or that of those around you. SMART goals are those that are: Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Relevant, and Timely. Outside of that, the goals can be made to suit your own needs and expectations.
The following are examples of some SMART goals you can set in the workplace, outlining how they meet SMART goal criteria.
There’s no point setting vague goals that don’t achieve anything specific. Edwin Locke and Gary Latham, pioneers in the field of goal-setting, found , “that specific, difficult goals consistently led to higher performance than urging people to do their best.” They also noted, “the highest or most difficult goals produced the highest levels of effort and performance.” It’s important for both you and your employees to have clear and established aims, to avoid potentially setting goals so broad that they are overwhelming and therefore too difficult to set into action.
Once you have a specific goal pinned down, it’s important to be able to measure the success or completion of the goal. This doesn’t have to be in the traditional sense, like on a numeric scale or a statistic, it just has to be measurable in some sense, so that it is clear when you have reached or are close to reaching your goal. This is a great way to keep track of progress in the workplace, for both you as a manager and your team members: if the goal is to expand the number of followers on Twitter, for example, having a measurable goal in the form of a number is a sure-fire way of measuring and tracking progress.
A SMART goal must be assignable to someone, be it yourself, your team, or individual team members. If you decide you want to achieve something as a team it is important that someone is responsible for tracking progress, implementing action steps, and keeping the team motivated.
It is essential that any goals set for teams or individuals are relevant to them and align with company needs. Of course, goal-completion is important and having goals met or worked towards is the overall idea when setting them, but this is only really beneficial when the goals are productive in the workplace and will contribute to company success in some way.
As a manager, it is particularly important that you help your employees link their individual goals back to the wider team and company-wide goals. One of the best ways to motivate your employees is to make sure they know how their work is contributing to the bigger picture.
Goals must be time-related. It’s not productive to set a deadline too far in the future for a simple task, or an unrealistically short deadline for something complex and time-consuming. This common pitfall can be demotivating, either leading to early completion and a lack of urgency in task completion or creating enormous stress and potentially incomplete or inadequate performance because of lack of adequate time.
Here is an example of a SMART goal:
- Specific — Have each employee cross-trained on at least one other job on their team by the end of the second quarter:
- Measurable – Review progress with each team member bi-weekly. Assess skill development using standardized testing materials at the end of each month.
- Accountable – Each team manager to report on progress monthly.
- Relevant — Improves production efficiency and increases project continuity in the event of a loss of team members. Is part of the overall success management plan.
- Timely — Milestones are monthly with completion of training and proof of proficiency by end of Q2.
Some companies replace “Relevant” with “Realistic” in their SMART criteria to emphasize this point. Although we place emphasis on relevance in our outline, the importance of setting realistic goals, taking into consideration your team members and their capabilities and resources, should not be underestimated. Having clear, concise and relevant goals makes any work environment more communicative, motivating and effective.