Get SMART about your goals at work and start seeing results

March 1, 2022 - 18 min read

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What are the 5 parts of a SMART goal?

What are the benefits of SMART goals?

How do you write SMART goals?

What are examples of SMART goals?

Key takeaways for writing SMART goals

If you’re a team leader, you’ve likely experienced the frustration of setting team goals and failing to achieve them. 

Perhaps your team seemed enthusiastic at first but gradually lost their motivation. Or maybe they got bogged down by unclear roles and a lack of communication.

Whatever happened, the problem was less about you — it was your goals

But how do you set good goals? And more specifically, what are SMART goals?

The SMART goal-setting model can help leaders set and achieve business goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. 

So let’s take a deep dive into why you should be setting SMART goals and how to do it step-by-step.

What are the 5 parts of a SMART goal? 

Goal setting is an important step on the road to success, whether you’re aspiring to personal goals or professional goals

This set of five criteria can help you set robust goals, achieve them within the desired timeframe, and measure the outcomes.

The SMART acronym was developed by George T. Doran, Arthur Miller, and James Cunningham and published in a 1981 article.

Research indicates that goals serve four basic functions

Great leaders know that goal-setting is vital for running a successful team. Setting goals is an essential component of the strategic planning needed to achieve your business goals. 

Not only that, but it helps keep employees motivated and committed to the organization

However, setting effective goals isn’t always easy. If goals are either too challenging or not challenging enough, it can affect employee motivation and performance

Having unrealistically ambitious goals can be demotivating for your team. But setting them too low makes people feel like they have nothing to strive for. The key is to strike a balance with goals that stretch employees and help them grow without overwhelming them. 

Having useful, productive goals in place makes all the difference to team success. Failing to set clearly defined goals will almost certainly set you up for failure

But how can you set goals that will actually achieve your desired results? That’s where the SMART framework comes in. 

This goal-setting model continues to be one of the most popular, and with good reason. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of setting SMART goals.

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What are the benefits of SMART goals?

Let’s break down seven benefits of SMART goals.

1. They get everyone on the same page

Having a shared vision of the objectives is crucial for a team to successfully work together and achieve them.

Vague or wishy-washy goals are open to interpretation. Every member of the team will have their own understanding of the objectives. 

This can lead to confusion, miscommunication, and a lack of collaboration. Ultimately, it will be much more difficult for the team to achieve its goals.

SMART goals give your team members clarity on the objectives and how to achieve them. This common understanding can improve team collaboration and efficiency.

2. They increase your chances of success

SMART goals enable you and your team to work smarter, not harder. This is because you know exactly what needs to be done, the time frame for completing it, and the person responsible for each task. This streamlines team collaboration and cuts out irrelevant, time-wasting tasks.

SMART goals provide you with a clear purpose and lead to successful goal completion.

3. They motivate your team

Research indicates that employees are most highly motivated when there is a 50% chance of achieving a goal

Stretch yourself and your team with something to aim towards. But also make sure it’s something you can achieve within a realistic time frame with the resources and capabilities available.

According to research by Locke & Latham, specific and challenging goals lead to higher performance than easy goals, “do your best” goals or no goals at all. 

It’s important for both you and your employees to have clear and established aims. This will help you avoid setting goals so broad that they are too difficult to set into action.

4. They help you manage workloads

When you set SMART goals, you can then break those goals down into the specific tasks required to achieve them. This allows you to set a time frame for the completion of each task. Then, you can allocate tasks to team members according to their roles and responsibilities

Assigning tasks enables you to see which team members may have too much on their plate and reallocate them to others accordingly. It can also help you mitigate any potential bottlenecks in the workflow.

Adequate assignation of tasks can also help your team with time management and prevent or reduce stress and burnout.

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5. They help you identify resources

Having a set of SMART goals can feed into budget development and help you identify any resources you need to achieve them. 

For example, you may realize you need to recruit new employees or create new roles within the organization in order to reach your goals.

6. They allow you to monitor performance

SMART goals are the benchmark against which you measure your progress. With SMART goals, you know exactly what you should have achieved by a particular date. 

This allows you to monitor progress and makes it easier to react in the event of challenges or setbacks. 

7. They have a clear beginning and end

When you set a SMART goal, you will know by definition when you’ve achieved it. This will give your employees a sense of satisfaction and help to keep them motivated and engaged.

Don’t forget to celebrate your achievements by recognizing the contributions of your team members.

How do you write SMART goals? 

If you’re ready to start setting SMART goals, follow this five-step process.

1. Specific

The first step to setting SMART goals is to get crystal clear about what you’re trying to achieve. Vague-sounding goals like “improve customer satisfaction” are likely to lead to confusion down the line and decrease your chances of success. 

So, get super-specific. If you want to improve your customer satisfaction, think about which aspect of customer experience you want to focus on. Is it the top-of-funnel experience that needs improving? Or would your existing customers benefit from better customer service?

Perhaps it’s both, in which case, you would split the goal of improving customer satisfaction into two SMART goals. One will focus on your marketing efforts and click-through rates. The other will focus on the satisfaction levels of your existing customers. 

They might look something like this:

  • SMART goal 1: increase landing page click-through rates by 20%.
  • SMART goal 2: have at least 80% of customers rate their customer service experience as “excellent.”

2. Measurable

Outlining specific goals makes it easier to measure them. Measurable goals are essential for measuring your success.

Use metrics such as key performance indicators (KPIs) to set your SMART objectives. This may be expressed as a percentage, as in the examples given above. Or, it could be an empirical number. 

For example, let’s say your goal is to increase your brand’s visibility on social media. First, you’ll need to make it specific by defining which platforms you want to grow on. For example, you might want to increase your number of followers on Twitter.

Now, let’s take that specific goal and make it measurable. So you might end up with something like: “Grow the number of followers on Twitter to 100,000.” You now have a target figure against which to measure your progress.

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3. Attainable

SMART goals should help you grow, but they also need to be achievable for your business. Base your SMART goals on your own data and analytics as well as industry standards. 

For example, reaching 100,000 Twitter followers may be an achievable goal if you already have 50,000. 

But if you only have 500, you might want to start with a lower target and work up from there. If you set goals that are too far out of reach, it will be much harder to achieve them. 

4. Relevant

Your SMART goals should align with company-wide aims — otherwise, they won’t be relevant. As well as taking into account your own organizational goals, it’s important to be aware of industry trends. 

For instance, will gaining 100,000 followers on Twitter increase sales? If not, it may be more relevant to focus your efforts elsewhere, for example, on improving your email marketing. 

As a leader, it’s particularly important that you help your employees link their goals back to the wider team and management’s 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.

5. Time-bound

The final step in defining a successful SMART goal is to decide on a time frame in which to achieve it. 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 for your team members. They’re either left with an abundance of time or feeling stressed when they fail to accomplish goals in the time frame provided. 

What are examples of SMART goals? 

Once you know the theory of SMART goal-setting, it can be helpful to look at a few examples to inspire you.

Here are two examples of SMART goals based on scenarios mentioned in the previous section, with a breakdown of how each one meets the SMART criteria.

Example 1: landing page goal

SMART goal: We will increase landing page click-through rates by 20% in the next 12 months by improving page loading time on mobile. 

Specific: We want to generate more leads from our landing page by improving loading time on mobile.

Measurable: Our goal is to generate 20% more leads.

Attainable: We discovered we were losing potential leads due to slow mobile loading times for our landing page. Therefore, our goal should be achievable if we improve the mobile user experience. 

Relevant: If we generate more leads, we will be able to close more sales

Time-bound: The time frame for achieving this goal is 12 months.

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Example 2: Twitter growth goal

SMART goal: We will grow to 100,000 Twitter followers within six months by improving our engagement with followers.

Specific: We want to increase our number of followers on Twitter to 100,000 by improving the quality and frequency of our interactions with followers.

Measurable: Our goal is to reach 100,000 followers. 

Attainable: Although we have a team dedicated to social content strategy and delivery, we realized we were not engaging with all the comments generated by our posts. 

We know that engaging with your audience is key to driving growth. So we can address this by creating a new role within the team that focuses only on engagement. 

Relevant: Our company generates most of its new leads through Twitter. Growing our following will help us generate more leads and close more sales. 

Time-bound: Our goal is to reach the target within the next six months.

Key takeaways for writing SMART goals

Ready to start setting SMART goals? Use the questions in the following checklist to help you.

  • Specific: Is the goal too wide? How can we narrow this down? Should we split this objective into two or more smaller goals? How will we know when this goal has been achieved?
  • Measurable:How can we express our goal as a number or percentage? How will we monitor progress against our goal? What number or percentage do we need to reach to achieve our goal?
  • Attainable: Is this goal achievable given current market conditions? Is it in line with market trends? Is it possible from our current starting point? Is it too limited or too ambitious?
  • Relevant: Does this goal contribute to overarching business goals? Is it coherent with the efforts of other teams or departments? Will it help our business grow?
  • Time-bound: What is a realistic time frame within which to achieve this goal?

What are SMART goals?

Now that you know the answer to the question “what are SMART goals?” you can change the way you and your team create and assign goals and milestones.

Having clear, concise, and relevant goals makes any team effort more efficient and effective.

Once you're set up with your new goals, the next step is making sure you commit to them together as a team. Why not sign up for a free demo with BetterUp and discover how we can help you and your team achieve your goals?

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Published March 1, 2022

Erin Eatough, PhD

Sr. Insights Manager

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