What are SMART Goals?


Insights for ProfessionalsThe latest thought leadership for Management pros

Thursday, October 18, 2018

SMART goals can be used in almost any element of business including people management, but what exactly are they?

Article 3 Minutes
What are SMART Goals?

SMART goals can be a key part of people management. The principles aim to make goals more straightforward and realistic, while also ensuring that progress can be tracked. But what are they, how do you write them and what are the alternatives?

What is SMART?

SMART stands for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Actionable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

Any goals set - from business objectives to people management - should meet every element of the criteria to be effective whatever its purpose. It aims to steer people away from vague goals that lead to disengagement and low morale in favor of objectives that have a higher rate of success.

How do you write a SMART goal?

Writing a SMART goal isn't complicated you just need to make sure it answers the following questions:

  • What exactly do I want to achieve?
  • How am I going to measure progress?
  • How will I action it?
  • Is this relevant to my overall goal?
  • When is the deadline for completion?

If you're able to answer all of these questions with your goal, then chances are it meets the SMART criteria. For example, 'improve morale on the team' wouldn't be SMART but 'have more than 50% of employees feel valued in survey results by the end of quarter 4' is.

When should you use a SMART goal?

SMART goals can be used for practically any element of business but can be especially useful in people management. From setting goals for managers based around morale, retention or engagement to helping individuals with their personal development, there are a wide number of applications.

One of the most attractive benefits of a SMART goal is that it leaves very little open to interpretation, so the risk of professionals being held back because of unconscious bias or favoritism is reduced. As long as everyone on a team is getting the same level of support, such as regular development meetings, there should be no reason why every individual can’t succeed.

What are the alternatives to SMART?

There are alternatives to SMART when it comes to motivating yourself to achieve a goal. CLEAR goals work on a similar basis but instead require objectives to be:

  • Collaborative
  • Limited
  • Emotional
  • Appreciable
  • Refinable

This can suit those in people management better as the collaboration and emotional aspects complement the engagement of multiple individuals all working towards the same goal.

BHAG is another option for managers. BHAG or Big Hairy Audacious Goal was conceptualized by James Collins and Jerry Porras in their book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. As the name suggests, it encourages people to forgo traditional bitesize goals and instead reach for the stars with one big objective that you can commit to for the long term.

In contrast, the 90-day goal focuses on a much shorter timescale to keep individuals motivated and engaged in improving themselves. The three-month deadline means there's no time to get bored or lose interest in your objective and, if you do, there's a new one on the horizon to wipe the slate clean.

Whether SMART or one of its alternatives are best suited for your team depends entirely on what motivates the individuals you work with. Regardless of what method you pick, you should ensure that there is a way to track progress and determine success or failure to ensure goal setting is a valuable initiative for the business.

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