This article explains the concept of SMART Goals in a practical way. After reading it, you will understand the basics of this powerful effectiveness and time management tool. This article also contains a downloadable and editable SMART Goals template / worksheet.
Skill Booster: SMART Goals video
What are SMART Goals?
Everyone who wants to pursue a goal, knows that is important to provide a good description of this goal. Empty slogans do not bring satisfactory results. Making a concrete analysis in advance will help you to get to the finishing line. A useful method to achieve this is the so-called SMART Goals or simply SMART. SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Acceptable, Realistic and Time-bound.
A SMART goal gives direction to what you want to achieve. Setting smart goals and using the smart criteria will give a sense of direction to everyone who wants to achieve the goal and it is highly likely that it can be really completed successfully. A well-formulated goal is easy to understand for everyone. You will find an explanation of each of the letters below.
SMART Goals explained (video)
A vague goal such as ‘our company wants to enhance its turnover ’indicates that the current situation is not satisfactory. Apparently the turnover must be enhanced. However, there is not a real plan to realize this goal. So it is unclear for all the parties involved what they should do.
The SMART goals should therefore be formulated more precisely and specifically so that everyone knows what is expected of them. The specific goal must describe an observable action, behaviour or result. It helps if a quantitative value is linked to a number, amount or percentage.
By answering the so-call Wh- questions in advance, the goal will become more concrete:
- What do we wish to accomplish? (yield 20% more turnover than we did last year)
- Who are involved? (the marketing department and the office sales and field sales departments)
- What resources are involved? (by making a € 50,000 budget available for the coming year)
- When is it going to happen? (from 1 January up to and including 31 December 2018)
- What parts of the goal are essential? (advertising should be deployed more actively and the field sales department must respond to enquiries in their field)
- Why is this goal important? (competition is increasing and in order to survive we need to become a key market player)
Each SMART goal has a starting point as well as a finishing point and they are indications of the quality of the effort to be made. A system, method and procedure must mentioned which determines to what extent the target moment has been achieved (measurable goals).
Therefore, it is advisable to have a benchmark and to determine a baseline measurement of the starting situation to measure progress:
- What was the turnover of the past year? (1.2 million in 2017)
- How do you know whether the goal has been achieved (20% of 1.2 million is 240,000.00)
- What efforts are required? (a good advertising campaign must be launched with good follow-up actions from the office sales and field sales departments)
- How can it be measured? (by comparing the monthly and quarterly sales figures with the figures of the previous year)
SMART goals must be acceptable for you as well as for the group or the department. For managers it is important to create support for the goal among the employees. Only then the goal stands a chance of succeeding.
The support base will increase if employees are involved in the decision-making. This applies especially to short term goals. If it turns out that 20% more turnover than the year before means that this is too ambitious and that this results in a decrease in job satisfaction, the percentage will have to be adjusted.
Therefore Acceptable is also referred to as Ambitious; both go hand in hand and they should be in balance. Ambition is great when it is a motivator. If it brings down motivation, then the ambition is too high and as a result it stretches everyone to the limit.
A realistic goal takes into account the practical situation and the work in which everyone is involved. It is impossible that everyone’s focus will be on the same goal all the time; after all, there are always other issues requiring attention.
For example urgent jobs, tasks that need to be carried out and unforeseen events. Furthermore, the goal must be relevant to those who are going to work on it. If the finance department is instructed to increase the turnover by 20% then it will probably come to nothing.
In addition, it must be ensured that the above-mentioned marketing, office sales and field sales departments actually have the time and manpower to focus on the goal for a whole year. Moreover, the goal must be challenging. If it isn’t, it has a demotivating effect on the people involved and little or no attention will be paid to the goal with the consequence that the goal will not be achieved.
Realistic is therefore about the feasibility of the goals. The objective must be challenging and bring benefits to the employees involved. They must also have the capacity, resources and authority to get started.
It is especially important that short-term goals are formulated the SMART way. This is not always possible for long-term goals. Time-bound and time based is often confused with measurable, but there is a clear difference between the two. Time-bound is actually about the time that is allocated to reach the goal.
A SMART goal therefore has a clear starting time and a clear end date. A very tight deadline on the other hand has a demotivating effect and is therefore not acceptable. The sub-question ‘when does it happen?’ has in fact been answered under the heading Specific: from 1 January up to and including 31 December 2018, work is to be carried out to increase sales by 20% and on 31 December 2018 this will have to result in 240,000 extra turnover.
One year from now is not a concrete goal, by setting a date and year for the goal, the organization can work towards this. Incidentally, a year is a long period. By dividing the goal into sub-goals that have a monthly deadline, everyone can work towards an interim completion. This enhances motivation and makes it pleasant to continue the work even when faced with adverse conditions.
Brief history of SMART Goals
The first contextual event in the history of SMART goals happened in 1968. Edwin Locke published a seminal paper called “Toward a Theory of Task Motivation and Incentives”. In the paper, Locke established that appropriately set goals do result in superior organizational performance.
It was Edwin Locke in the late 1960’s, who began his research of the power of setting goals and organizational performance. George T. Doran published in 1981 an article called “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management’s goals and objectives” and laid out the main principles of SMART goals.
Use of SMART Goals
SMART goals and objectives can be incorporated into tasks that managers assign to employees, project plans, business plans and marketing plans.
SMART can also be used in a time frame. It is very suitable for achieving weekly goals, monthly goals or quarterly goals. Sometimes the goal does not always have to be achieved, but works as a guideline that helps to maintain focus. Interim evaluations, verifications and adjustments are good and indicate that there is not always a need for a very rigid response.
After all, it is sometimes important to respond to changes from the environment with the right set of time and resources.
SMART Goals template / worksheet
Start describing your goals with this ready to use SMART Goals template / worksheet.
It’s Your Turn
What do you think? What are your experiences with SMART Goals and personal goals? Do you recognize the practical explanation or do you have more suggestions? What are your success factors for good Goal formulation and achievement?
Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.
- Bogue, R. L. (2005). Use SMART goals to launch management by objectives plan. Retrieved November, 15, 2010.
- Conzemius, A., & O’Neill, J. (2009). The power of SMART goals: Using goals to improve student learning. Solution Tree Press.
- Doran, G. T. (1981). There’sa SMART way to write management’s goals and objectives. Management review, 70(11), 35-36.
- Locke, E. A. (1968). Toward a theory of task motivation and incentives. Organizational behavior and human performance, 3(2), 157-189.
- Lawlor, K. B. (2012). Smart goals: How the application of smart goals can contribute to achievement of student learning outcomes. Developments in Business Simulation and Experiential Learning, 39.
- Rubin, R. S. (2002). Will the real SMART goals please stand up. The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 39(4), 26-27.
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