Get Clever: How to Set SMART Objectives


Did you know that you’re 42% more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down? The amount of research and statistics on goal setting that is available these days is staggering.

Because having goals isn’t enough. There is so much more you need to put in place to achieve them. And if you are setting goals for employees, then you must give them the tools they need to succeed.

That’s where SMART objectives come in.

This technique is the best way to improve performance management in your business. Not sure what they are or how to set SMART goals for your employees? This guide will show you exactly how.

What Are SMART Goals or Objectives?

SMART is an acronym created by George Doran, Arthur Miller, and James Cunningham. They wrote an article about the concept in 1981 and its popularity hasn’t wavered. That’s because it works!

SMART stands for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-Sensitive

Let’s break down each letter so you know how to apply them to every objective-setting task.

Step 1: Get Specific

The more specific a goal is, the more likely you are to achieve it. Here are some examples of non-specific business goals so you know what not to do:

  • Expand the business
  • Improve the HR department
  • Execute a marketing strategy
  • Change the management structure

These are all vague goals because they give no clue as you how you are going to achieve them. To make them more specific, ask open questions. Let’s use the HR department example:

  • Why does the HR department need to improve?
  • Which parts need improving?
  • What needs to happen to make the improvement possible?
  • Who will be responsible for completing this goal?
  • How will this happen?
  • Where and when will this take place?

A specific alternative to this goal could be, “the HR department’s onboarding process needs improving. The HR manager will overhaul contracts and training documents.” Now you have a better idea of how to help your employee achieve this objective.

Step 2: Make It Measurable

You need to know when you’ve achieved a goal or not. If you set goals with no KPIs then it’s impossible to know if you’re successful.

Here are some examples of non-measurable business goals:

  • Sell more products
  • Improve customer satisfaction
  • Increase productivity
  • Spend less on overheads

Let’s say you sell one more product this quarter than you did last quarter. You did sell more products which means you achieved your goal. But it’s unlikely that this was your intention.

This is the ROI of performance management. If you put a metric on the goal, you could have motivated your team to make more money.

Here are some examples of measurable business goals:

  • Sell 15% more products
  • Increase positive online reviews by 5%
  • Decrease overhead spending by 10%
  • Decrease employee working hours by one hour but keep the output consistent

These goals have clear and measurable targets so it’s easy to see if you’ve hit them or not.

Step 3: Ensure Attainability

You could pluck a metric out of thin air, attach it to a goal, and call it a day. But it’s meaningless if the metric is unrealistic. You will be setting your employees up to fail which is not good for morale.

You can often make a goal attainable by looking back and learning from past experiences. Let’s say you are about to start your third year of business and you want to grow your net profit by 80% from the previous year.

If the growth in your second year was 60 or 70% then this could be an attainable goal. But if you had 30% growth then this might be unrealistic unless you have other metrics to back up this goal.

As well as looking back at past experiences, you also need to ensure you have the resources. Finances, time, and people are all examples of resources. If you achieved 70% growth last year but you laid off half your staff last week, then it’s unrealistic to expect more growth this year.

Step 4: Consider Relevancy

Sometimes, managers set goals because they think they should. They don’t set SMART objectives that matter.

When you set irrelevant goals, not only are you more inclined to give up (and you likely should!) but achieving them won’t mean much anyway.

Here are some examples of irrelevant business goals:

  • Building your LinkedIn audience when you’re a florist
  • Increasing US audience when expanding to Canada is more lucrative
  • Improving sales numbers in January after the holiday season
  • Focusing on being a green business when you don’t produce much waste

As you can see whether a goal is relevant or not depends on certain variables. But the key is to only create goals that will make the most impact on your business. Don’t get sidetracked with busy work.

Step 5: Choose a Timeframe

The final consideration you need to make when setting SMART objectives is to pick a timeframe. If you don’t have a deadline then you might never achieve the goal.

Sometimes, deadlines present themselves. If you work in retail or hospitality, public holidays might dictate the timeframe you’re working with.

But if you need to choose one for yourself or your employees, then it should be realistic. Sometimes it helps to break down a goal by day or by week to measure this.

Let’s take the goal, “launch a new product.” Here are some weekly tasks that could help you meet that goal:

  • Market research product ideas
  • Create a market research report
  • Develop a product
  • Create packaging and branding
  • Prepare a marketing plan
  • Plan a launch event
  • Launch the new product

Following this example, launching a product in three weeks would not be a realistic timeframe. But setting a deadline of two to three months might be more realistic.

Start Using SMART Objectives Today

Let’s be honest, if you or your employees achieved anything without using SMART objectives then you were lucky. But as Arnold Schwarzenegger said in his movie Junior (1994), “luck is for the ill-prepared.” Now that you know how to create effective goals, you should prepare to experience more success.

When you run a business, you should never stop learning new ways to improve productivity and communication. Browse our business articles for tons more ideas and advice!

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