A SMART goal is any goal with a carefully planned, concise, and trackable objective. To be such a goal needs to be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based. Bringing structure and trackability to goal setting increases the chances goals will be achieved, and it helps align the organization around those goals.
Understanding SMART goals
“SMART” is an acronym which explains how a goal might be achieved. Here is a more detailed look at each letter in the SMART acronym.
S – Specific
When considering the goal, it helps to be as specific as possible. Many individuals and businesses set goals with arbitrary dollar amounts, such as becoming a millionaire or generation 10 million dollars in revenue.
If the goal is to make a certain amount of money, a more specific objective may be to make $40,000 per month for the next 5 years by selling 2500 units of a new software product.
Here, it helps to ask questions. What is it, in exact terms, that an individual or business hopes to achieve? Where, how, and when will this occur? What are the reasons for setting the goal in the first instance?
M – Measurable
Measurable goals have metrics that are used to gauge progress. This is particularly important for large and complex goals that must be broken down into smaller steps.
Measurable goals also let the individual or business know that they have reached the finished line.
Goals must be realistically achievable, otherwise, the temptation may be to give up on achieving them entirely.
Businesses should set goals that their employees could reasonably expect to see through – given the materials and resources at hand.
It’s also important to identify any short or long term impediments that may divert these resources.
R – Relevant
Relevance means that individuals and businesses set goals that are aligned with their values and long-term objectives.
There is no point setting goals for the sake of it – so ensure that the reasons for conceiving a goal are aligned with broader strategies and company culture.
T – Time-based
Goals by their very definition need a deadline, particularly in business settings. Time-based goals are also important in tracking progress and setting milestones.
For example, a business wanting to double its revenue in 6 months would hope to increase revenue by 50% after the 3-month mark.
Some common mistakes when setting SMART goals
Clarity is key when setting SMART goals. A marketing department might not know where to start when presented with the goal of selling 5000 cars in the next 4 years.
However, the more specific goal of selling 5000 small cars in Italy by the end of 2025 gives them something to work with.
If the goal is to improve customer service, then there must be a customer service KPI with which to gauge progress.
Many businesses make the mistake of setting goals that simply can’t be measured. Here, quantitative or industry research is key.
If a business is particularly successful, it is easy to get carried away with goal setting.
An ambitious goal of selling 1 million pairs of shoes in the next 5 years is daunting and maybe unattainable without the required due diligence. In this case, smaller goals of selling 20,000 pairs every 3 months may be more suitable.
SMART goals examples
Let’s now explain some SMART goal examples across a variety of contexts.
Increasing job performance
In the first example, a small business owner wants to overhaul their website to drive more revenue.
Their goal is to redesign the company website by the end of September so that they can attract more clients.
- Specific – I will undertake a complete site overhaul of the company’s website and launch it by September 30.
- Measurable – To assist in the process, I will hire the expertise of one web programmer and one graphic designer.
- Achievable – With respect to my business experience, existing commitments, and the addition of hired talent, I will devote 10 hours a week to the website to have a functional version online before the official launch on October 1.
- Relevant – I recognize that a complete site redesign increases the legitimacy and professionalism of my business and enables me to better market my services to the rest of the world.
- Time-sensitive – Since this goal must be achieved by the end of September, I have 2 months to spend on the site. This equates to approximately 90 hours of work.
Increasing the usage of a mobile app
In the second example, we have a SMART goal devised by a product manager at a tech company.
The product manager, which we will Mary, has been tasked with increasing usage of the company’s mobile app and is using the framework to ensure her team remains on track.
- Specific – The objective is to grow the number of monthly users via targeted social media campaigns and optimization of the app-store listing.
- Measurable – To increase the monthly user count by 2,000. This will be achieved via social media campaigns across Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter in addition to app-store optimization.
- Achievable – Mary assesses the resources available to her and realizes that social media campaigns for three platforms may be overly ambitious. Rather than fall short, she decides to scale the objective down to the two platforms with the most potential users. These are LinkedIn and Twitter.
- Relevant – Since the app in question drives customer retention and loyalty, Mary recognizes that users who stick with the company longer will increase profitability for her employer.
- Time-sensitive – To complete the SMART goal, Mary sets a completion date of end of Q1 2023.
Improving response time to customer complaints
In the last example, Jerry, a customer service manager, uses the SMART framework to improve response times to customer complaints.
- Specific – Jerry’s goal is to improve the response time to customer complaints by recruiting new employees for his customer service team.
- Measurable – The customer service team will add four extra staff in the next six months. This will mean the team is comprised of 12 individuals.
- Achievable – Jerry is also moving to a new office soon, so he ensures that he has enough desk space for twelve computers.
- Relevant – Reducing customer response time increases sales revenue, improves customer satisfaction, and also increases employee productivity and engagement. Jerry is also cognizant of the fact that he will need to add new clients to justify a staff of 12 over the long term.
- Time-sensitive – The four extra staff must be recruited before the company moves to new premises on February 15.
- Problem: An employee wants to enhance their professional skills.
- SMART Goal: To obtain a project management certification (PMP) within the next 9 months by enrolling in a PMP training course, studying for 10 hours a week, and passing the PMP exam.
- Specific: The goal outlines the specific certification to achieve and the steps to attain it.
- Measurable: Progress can be tracked by monitoring course completion and exam results.
- Achievable: With dedicated study and a structured course, obtaining the PMP certification is realistic.
- Relevant: Earning the PMP certification aligns with the employee’s career development goals.
- Time-based: The goal is set for completion within 9 months.
- Problem: A company aims to reduce its carbon footprint.
- SMART Goal: To decrease carbon emissions by 20% within the next year by implementing energy-efficient technologies, optimizing transportation routes, and promoting sustainable practices among employees.
- Specific: The goal specifies the reduction target and the strategies for achieving it.
- Measurable: Progress can be tracked by measuring carbon emissions regularly.
- Achievable: With eco-friendly technologies and practices, a 20% reduction is feasible.
- Relevant: Reducing carbon emissions aligns with the company’s commitment to sustainability.
- Time-based: The goal has a one-year timeframe.
- Problem: A nonprofit organization wants to increase volunteer participation.
- SMART Goal: To recruit and engage 50 new volunteers for community projects within the next 6 months by launching targeted volunteer recruitment campaigns, organizing information sessions, and offering flexible volunteering opportunities.
- Specific: The goal specifies the number of new volunteers and the actions to attract them.
- Measurable: Progress can be tracked by counting the number of recruited volunteers.
- Achievable: With effective campaigns and flexible options, recruiting 50 new volunteers is attainable.
- Relevant: Increasing volunteer numbers supports the nonprofit’s mission to serve the community.
- Time-based: The goal is set for accomplishment within 6 months.
- Problem: A technology company wants to launch a new software product.
- SMART Goal: To release a fully functional software product, including beta testing and user feedback, within 9 months by assembling a development team, defining key features, conducting testing, and gathering user input.
- Specific: The goal outlines the specific product launch and the steps involved.
- Measurable: Progress can be tracked by monitoring development milestones.
- Achievable: With a dedicated team and a defined process, the product launch is realistic.
- Relevant: Launching a new software product aligns with the company’s growth strategy.
- Time-based: The goal has a timeframe of 9 months.
- Problem: An individual wants to become more proficient in a foreign language.
- SMART Goal: To achieve conversational fluency in Spanish within 12 months by enrolling in language classes, practicing speaking with native speakers, and studying for 1 hour every day.
- Specific: The goal specifies the language, proficiency level, and the actions to achieve it.
- Measurable: Progress can be tracked through language proficiency assessments.
- Achievable: With consistent practice and language classes, achieving conversational fluency is attainable.
- Relevant: Learning Spanish aligns with the individual’s personal interests and travel aspirations.
- Time-based: The goal is set for completion within 12 months.
Fitness and Health:
- Problem: A person wants to improve their fitness and overall health.
- SMART Goal: To lose 15 pounds of body weight within 3 months by following a balanced diet and exercising for 30 minutes daily.
- Specific: The goal clearly defines the desired weight loss and the methods (diet and exercise) to achieve it.
- Measurable: Progress can be tracked by monitoring weight loss over time.
- Achievable: The goal is realistic and attainable with a healthy diet and regular exercise.
- Relevant: Improved health and weight loss align with the individual’s long-term goal of a healthier lifestyle.
- Time-based: The goal has a clear timeframe of 3 months.
- Problem: A project manager needs to improve project completion rates.
- SMART Goal: To increase project completion rates by 20% within the next quarter by implementing agile project management practices and conducting team training.
- Specific: The goal specifies the desired increase in completion rates and the actions to achieve it.
- Measurable: Progress can be measured by comparing completion rates before and after implementing changes.
- Achievable: The goal is achievable with process improvements and training.
- Relevant: Higher project completion rates align with the company’s strategic goals.
- Time-based: The goal has a timeframe of the next quarter.
- Problem: A sales team aims to boost its performance.
- SMART Goal: To increase monthly sales revenue by 15% over the next six months by implementing a more targeted sales strategy and providing additional sales training.
- Specific: The goal specifies the desired increase in sales revenue and the strategies to achieve it.
- Measurable: Progress can be tracked by comparing monthly sales figures.
- Achievable: The goal is realistic with targeted strategies and training.
- Relevant: Higher sales revenue aligns with the company’s growth objectives.
- Time-based: The goal has a timeframe of six months.
- Problem: A student wants to improve their academic performance in a challenging course.
- SMART Goal: To achieve an A grade in the upcoming semester’s advanced calculus course by attending weekly tutoring sessions, studying for a minimum of 15 hours per week, and seeking help when needed.
- Specific: The goal specifies the desired grade and the actions to achieve it.
- Measurable: Progress can be tracked by monitoring grades throughout the semester.
- Achievable: The goal is attainable with regular tutoring and dedicated study time.
- Relevant: Achieving an A grade aligns with the student’s academic goals.
- Time-based: The goal is tied to the upcoming semester.
- Problem: An individual wants to save money for a future vacation.
- SMART Goal: To save $2,000 for a dream vacation within 12 months by creating a monthly budget, tracking expenses, and depositing a set amount into a dedicated savings account each month.
- Specific: The goal specifies the savings target and the financial actions required.
- Measurable: Progress can be tracked by monitoring savings contributions.
- Achievable: The goal is realistic with a well-planned budget and disciplined savings.
- Relevant: Saving for a dream vacation aligns with the individual’s personal aspirations.
- Time-based: The goal has a timeframe of 12 months.
- SMART goals are those that are carefully planned against certain criteria to increase the chances of them being accomplished.
- SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based.
- Some common mistakes when setting SMART goals include those not backed by reliable KPIs or those that are simply unattainable in the recommended timeframe.
SMART Goals vs. OKR
SMART goals and OKR are very similar tools, however, SMART goals are used more for personal development. Where instead OKR is a goal-setting system primarily thought for teams. So how to enable large organizations to achieve their goals at scale.
Therefore, while in terms of mindset SMART and OKR are similar. SMART goals usually are used more by solopreneurs, where OKR are used by startups and larger organizations.
SMART Goals vs. OKR vs. MBOs
Management by Objectives or MBO is a strategic management tool whose core principle is to define organizational objectives to align management with employees clearly. OKR is an evolution, as it breaks the silos and makes the shared objectives transparent to the whole company.
And those same objectives are aggressive and aspirational. SMART Goals can be used in the direction of OKRs but more at a personal level or at a smaller scale.
OKR and 10x thinking
OKR has been a system widely used in companies like Google to help scale up, while still aligning the company around so-called moonshots. Or small and larger bets that can make the company breakthrough in various verticals.
As OKR is by nature aggressive and aspirational, it fits well with the 10x thinking mindset.
Key Highlights of SMART Goals:
- Definition: SMART goals are goals that are carefully planned, concise, and trackable. The acronym SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-based.
- Purpose of SMART Goals: SMART goals provide a structured framework for goal setting to increase the likelihood of achieving those goals. They bring clarity, accountability, and alignment to goal setting.
- Specific (S): Goals should be specific and clearly defined. Avoid vague or arbitrary targets and focus on precise objectives.
- Measurable (M): Goals should be measurable, with metrics that track progress and determine when the goal has been achieved. Measurement helps in tracking and evaluating success.
- Achievable (A): Goals should be realistic and attainable. Setting overly ambitious goals can lead to frustration and demotivation. Consider available resources and constraints.
- Relevant (R): Goals should be relevant to the individual or organization’s values, long-term objectives, and strategies. Alignment with broader purposes is crucial for meaningful goals.
- Time-based (T): Goals should have a deadline. Setting a timeframe provides urgency, helps with tracking progress, and enables setting milestones.
- Common Mistakes in SMART Goal Setting:
- Vagueness: Goals should be specific, avoiding ambiguity. Clarity is crucial for effective goal pursuit.
- Lack of KPIs: Goals should have measurable Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to track progress objectively.
- Unattainability: Goals should be realistically achievable within the given resources and timeframe.
- Examples of SMART Goals:
- Increasing Job Performance: Redesigning a company website with specific metrics, resources, and timeframes.
- Increasing App Usage: Growing monthly users through targeted campaigns and app-store optimization, with specific metrics and platforms.
- Improving Customer Service Response Time: Adding new staff to the customer service team before a specific move date, with clear benefits and metrics.
- SMART Goals vs. OKR: SMART goals and OKR (Objectives and Key Results) are similar but differ in scope. SMART goals are often used for personal development, while OKR is a goal-setting system for teams and organizations, popularized by companies like Google.
- SMART Goals vs. OKR vs. MBOs: Management by Objectives (MBO) is a strategic management tool that aligns management with employees. OKR is an evolved version that breaks silos and is used at a larger organizational scale. MBO focuses on clear objectives, while OKR introduces aggressive and aspirational goals.
- OKR and 10x Thinking: OKR, especially in combination with 10x thinking (moonshot thinking), is used by companies like Google to set ambitious and transformative goals. It encourages unconventional solutions, experimentation, and breakthrough thinking.
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