Working smarter

How to set SMART objectives

Setting business plan goals and objectives without spending enough time clarifying what you’re trying to achieve before you move to action, or identifying clearly how you will know you have achieved it, is poor practice that invites failure.

A well-structured approach based on the acronym SMART – specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound – forces you and the team to think more carefully and methodically about the desired outcomes.

Setting SMART objectives

Specific

A specific goal has a much greater chance of being accomplished than a general goal. Specific means the objective is concrete, detailed, focused, well defined, straight-forward, clear, and emphasises action and the required outcome.

Objectives must communicate what you would like to see happen. To determine if your goal is specific, ask questions such as:

  • Who is involved?

  • What do I want to accomplish?

  • Where does it need to happen? Identify a location.

  • When does it need to be completed by? Establish a timeframe and key check-in points for performance management.

  • Which things form the parameters? Identify requirements and constraints.

  • Why are we doing this? List specific reasons, purpose or benefits of accomplishing the goal.

Measurable

A goal that is measured will enable you to know when you have achieved the objective and achieved success. Establish concrete criteria for measuring progress toward the attainment of each aim and goal you set.

When you measure your progress, you stay on track, reach your target dates, and are motivated to continue with the effort required to reach your goal.

To determine if your goal is measurable, ask questions such as:

  • What exactly are we going to do, with or for whom?

  • What strategies will be used?

  • Is the objective well understood?

  • Is the objective described with action verbs?

  • Is it clear who is involved?

  • Is it clear where this will happen?

  • Is it clear what needs to happen?

  • Is the outcome clear?

  • Will this objective lead to the desired results?

Attainable

Objectives need to be achievable. If the objective is too far in the future, you’ll find it difficult to keep people motivated over the long term.  

Keeping a good balance is important – while being attainable, objectives still need to stretch you and the team, but not so far that any of you become frustrated and lose motivation.

To determine if your goal is attainable, ask questions such as:

  • Can we get it done in the proposed timeframe?

  • Do we understand the limitations and constraints?

  • Can we do this with the resources we have?

  • Has anyone else done this successfully?

  • Is this possible? Do we have the resources, such as, people, money, skills, equipment and knowledge required to support the tasks required to achieve the objective?

Realistic

To be realistic, a goal must represent an objective toward which your business is both willing and able to work. It also must be realistic within the availability of the resources, knowledge and time the business has available.

A goal can be both high and realistic but ensure that every goal represents substantial progress. To determine whether or not your goal is realistic, ask questions such as:

  • Is it worth the costs and resources required?

  • Is this the right time to be doing it?

  • Is it in alignment with other goals?

Time-bound

Whether you're working towards long- or short-term goals, it’s essential objectives have a timeframe or target completion date that establishes focus and a sense of urgency.

Commitment to a deadline helps a team focus their efforts towards the completion of the objective and prevents the goals from being overtaken by other unrelated routine tasks that may arise. It also provides the necessary impetus to keep the team motivated to make things happen, helps set priorities and prompts action.

To determine if your goal is time-bound, ask questions such as:

  • When will this objective be accomplished?

  • Is there a stated deadline?

  • What can I do six months from now?

  • What can I do six weeks from now?

  • What can I do today?

General tips

  • Use verbs, especially those with a strong call to action. If your objective is to improve something, start with that. Examples of verbs to help you define your objectives with a focus on action include reduce, improve, increase, eliminate, produce, install, write, develop, build and complete.

  • Differentiate between objectives and aims, goals and targets before you start. Objectives are your battle-plans whereas an aim and goal relate to your aspirations.

A final word

It’s important to realise that rigid adherence to the SMART goals can detract from a change process where the focus (along with the targets) may be changing and developing over time. This is why targets require constant monitoring, and revising if necessary, to remain valid and meaningful.

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