What are SMART Goals? (The Modern Definition)

SMART is an acronym used to create concrete and actionable goals and objectives. The SMART approached was, and the mnemonic device should still be used to determine your objectives today. It ensures that goals are carried out through actions, and actually enhances employee engagement in the process.

Note that SMART approach can apply to setting OKR goals (Objectives and Key Results).

Here’s what SMART stands for:

Specific

Use precision and concrete language to answer: “What will be accomplished?” The more specific your verbiage, the more energy you or your team will put into executing the goal.

A SMART goal, then, would not be to “grow your business”.

This verbiage is too vague; and it fails to properly define the action – in this instance, the growth. A better approach would be to seek a specific (and realistic) number of new clients:

“I will acquire 500 new clients by the end of Q3.”

Measurable

Include a concrete number to quantify your goals. If it cannot be qualified with “as measured by”, then it fails to meet SMART criteria. Failure to use numbers to set a deadline and quantify your goal is akin to playing a game without a score.

The goal mentioned above is quantified both in terms of value and time. If the goal-setter has achieved in gaining 500 news clients, then she has met her goal; otherwise, she can go back and assess how to do things differently for the next quarter. If the goal was met too easily, perhaps it’s time to aim higher.

Regardless, the crucial factor here is that the goal must be measurable in the first place. Otherwise, how would one measure progress? Keep daily reminders of the number you’re seeking, and your deadline. That will make goal-meeting a habit.

Aligned

While some SMART enthusiasts dedicate the letter “A” to other aspects, one often-overlooked approach to SMART goal-setting is that it must be aligned. Every person in the organization should be in tune with the top-most objectives determined by the company CEO.

As you move upwards in a company, creating SMART goals becomes more complex. Setting SMART goals on the individual level is easy since only one person is carrying out the tasks, but when you write them for the entire organization, it’s important to make sure that they are specifically assigned, and then aligned, across all levels. Every goal must be aligned from top to bottom so that the goals on the individual level are reflective of the top 3-5 priorities of the organization set by the CEO for that quarter.

“A” can also stand for aggressive. While a SMART goal should be achievable, it should also be aggressive enough whereby it cannot be met without perseverance and laser-focus. Strike a balance between developing goals that are both achievable and aggressive; that’s one component in the formula for developing high-performance goals.

Relevant

Is it the right time to pursue this objective? To answer that question, consider the current realities of the market. You must also assess your available resources, and whether or not this goal meshes with the efforts and needs of the organization at the present time. To qualify as a SMART goal, it should matter – and be relevant – to every person in the company.

Ask yourself the following additional questions: Would everyone here consider this goal to be worthwhile? Is now the best time to pursue it? Does it align with the other needs and efforts of the company? Is it assigned to the proper individual or team? If your answer is “yes” to all of the above, then you’re in the clear.

Time-Bound

Assign a deadline. Choose an exact date by which the expected results must be achieved. In the example mentioned above, the end date is clear: it must be completed by the end of the third quarter. Some additional examples of typical SMART goal time frames:

“by the end of the quarter”

“within six weeks”

“by the end of the month”

When you set time-bound goals, you essentially prevent other day-to-day distractions from getting in the way. In order to achieve the goal within the indicated time frame, you’ll have to apply focus and perform at a higher level.

The Advantages

Structuring objectives provides focus and clarity. Providing direction shows your team exactly where they have to go and what they have to do to get there. Engagement grows best when employees can see one another’s goals and celebrate collaborative and individual wins.

Why It Works

Writing quantified objectives allows you to develop actionable steps (key results) that are also quantified. Individuals and teams become laser-focused on executing each step in order to complete ambitious objectives. Setting a deadline boosts engagement and limits distractions.

Cascading Alignment

Ensure that all objectives are relevant to the organization’s efforts and needs to drive alignment across departments, from the top down, and bottom up. Every person’s objectives mesh with the organizational goals, even if each individual objective isn’t a company-level priority. 

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