What are SMART goals and why should you use them?

Marlo Oster

You’ve probably heard of the acronym SMART before as it pertains to goal setting, but are you effectively using this technique in your workplace? SMART isn’t just a play on words—it’s a systematic approach to setting goals that are ambitious yet practical. So, what are SMART goals, and how should this framework be applied in the workplace by executives, managers, and employees?

In this guide, we break down what the "SMART" acronym stands for, how to set SMART goals, and provide specific examples of how SMART goals can benefit individuals, teams, and organizations.

What are SMART goals?

SMART is much more than an acronym. It’s a powerful tool designed to help teams, organizations, and individuals create clear, attainable goals, enabling them to structure and measure their goals in an inclusive, practical, and transparent way.

SMART was created by Peter Drucker, who is credited as “the founder of modern management,” thanks to another framework he created called Management By Objectives (MBO). Fun fact: Andy Grove used that framework to develop OKRs (Objectives and Key Results).

A manager might use SMART goals to set performance targets for their team. An executive might use them to prioritize various business initiatives. And an employee might use them to set specific project goals and track their progress over time.

The SMART goals acronym

SMART stands for:

  • Specific: Plan more effectively by ensuring your goals are simple, specific, and targeted.
  • Measurable: Determine which essential metrics and results will help you know if you’re lagging behind or making progress.
  • Achievable: Keep your head out of the clouds by keeping your goals grounded in reality. Practically speaking, what can be accomplished within your selected time frame?
  • Relevant: Your goals must support the long-term aims and brand values of the organization. How does each of your goals and milestones support both the future hopes of the project as well as the business at large?
  • Time-bound: Pick a date by which your goals need to be accomplished. The date must be both practical and ambitious to encourage and maintain motivation and efficiency. How will each of the tasks be prioritized?

Why should you use SMART goals at work?

SMART goals can help managers clearly and effectively prioritize their team’s time and resources. By setting specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound goals for their team, managers can more easily arrange what needs to be accomplished when in order to achieve success. This can also help create a more productive work environment, as employees will know exactly what is expected of them and what they need to do in order to meet their performance targets.

SMART goals can also help managers identify potential roadblocks that may arise along the way. By setting specific and measurable goals and determining what success looks like for each goal, managers can better assess the time and resources needed to achieve their objectives. This can also allow managers to adjust their goals accordingly and find potential areas of improvement.

But SMART goals don’t just help managers in the workplace—they can also help employees stay focused and motivated. By setting SMART goals for themselves, employees can create clear targets they can strive towards each day. This also increases productivity and accountability, as employees will feel more invested in their work and be intrinsically motivated to achieve the goals that they have set for themselves.

SMART goals help build valuable skills and experience over time. When employees track and measure their own progress and reflect on what went well and what could be improved, they learn valuable lessons that can be applied to future projects and goals. This helps employees stay engaged and motivated in their work, as they will feel more invested in what they are doing when they are able to see the results of their efforts from quarter to quarter and year to year.

📌 Learn more about setting effective goals in our guide: a better approach to goal setting

How to create and use SMART goals

To create a SMART goal, you must first clearly define what you want to accomplish and what success looks like for that goal. This requires being very specific about what you want to achieve and what steps you will need to take in order to get there.

Next, you need to make your goal measurable so that you can easily track your progress and measure your success along the way. This might involve setting specific targets or milestones or defining a set time frame for reaching your goal.

Finally, your goal must be achievable and relevant. This means that it should be something that you have the resources and ability to accomplish within a given time frame while also being aligned with the overall goals and objectives of your organization or team.

Let’s break that down a bit further.

Identify which outcome you want to achieve, and then break down that outcome into specific and measurable objectives. This might involve organizing your current to-do list into priorities, choosing what goals are most relevant to achieving your desired outcome, determining how long it will take to complete each task, and consulting with your manager/boss to ensure your goals align with the objectives of your team and company. You should also consider what resources you have available to you, your capacity to make progress on your goals, and what constraints or obstacles could get in your way.

Once you’ve identified your goals, create a plan for tracking your progress. This could involve setting regular deadlines or milestones, as well as creating systems for collecting the data needed to measure your progress. How is your progress tracking against the timeline you set for yourself? Will you know if you are not on track to meet your goals?

Additionally, how can you track the impact of your goals? Was it an effective goal? You can use this information to judge your success and to evolve future goals.

Consider the practical details of your SMART goal. Where will you store your goal, and how frequently will you check in on your progress? How often will you check in with your manager, either asynchronously or during your one-on-one meetings?

📌 With Charma, everyone can set SMART goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Our goal management software and goal tracker help by making best practices automatic, so you and your team can collaborate without a clunky interface getting in the way. Goals are all integrated within one-on-one and group workspaces to keep them top-of-mind, so you can discuss goals, offer feedback, and collaborate on next steps all in the same place. Learn more about our goal tracking capabilities

Examples of SMART goals

Your SMART goals will differ depending on your profession and current role within your company.

For example, a SMART goal set by someone in marketing might be to increase sales revenue over the next quarter by 20%. This goal is specific and measurable, as it sets clear targets for the desired outcome. It’s also an achievable goal, given the marketer's resources, previous experience, and expertise in their field. Additionally, the goal is relevant to the overall goals of the marketing team and the company as a whole. Finally, it’s time-bound; there is a specific deadline by which the goal must be reached.

Or let’s say you’re a manager who wants to run more effective one-on-one meetings. A SMART goal in this case might be to increase each team member’s overall engagement and satisfaction in one-on-one meetings by the end of the quarter using feedback surveys as a metric. This goal is specific since it identifies a specific desired outcome. It’s measurable, as the manager can track metrics like attendance rates and feedback from team members to assess their progress. The goal is also achievable thanks to the manager's experience managing teams, their resources, and support from leadership. Additionally, the goal benefits the team as well as the entire organization, as satisfied, engaged employees are a company’s greatest asset. The goal is time-bound since it must be accomplished by the end of the quarter.

If you’re an executive, your SMART goal might be to increase the profits of the business by 25% over the next year. This goal is both specific and measurable, as it clearly defines success with a metric. If profits aren’t up by the first quarter, it’s a clear indication that things aren’t going to plan and adjustments must be made to meet the end of year goal. The goal is achievable, as it’s more reasonable than raising the company’s net profits by 100% or even 50%. The goal is extremely relevant to the business as a whole as it’s directly related to the company’s growth strategy. And last but not least, the goal is time-bound, as the goal must be reached by the end of the year. With this SMART goal, executives can better focus their resources and efforts on driving business growth in key areas. By tracking their progress and continually reflecting on what is going well and what can be improved, they can continue to learn and grow throughout the year.

📌 Grow your leadership skills. Read our guide to Transformational Leadership →

Using Charma to create and manage SMART goals

SMART goals are an extremely effective tool for creating practical goals that can be easily measured and structured in an inclusive and transparent way. By creating goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound, teams, organizations, and individuals can effectively and efficiently prioritize their time and resources, avoid roadblocks, and maintain engagement and accountability.

Charma provides flexible and intuitive goal setting and goal management with goals that are lightweight and versatile, whether that’s company goals, project goals, or personal career development goals. You choose who can see the goals and whether they are long term or short term.

Our tools for managers can help your goals stay top-of-mind and with measurable results. The flexibility of our goal management platform gives you the ability to run whatever goal setting framework best fits your organization and objectives. Plus, goals are exceptionally easy to create thanks to our quick and intuitive interface, which strips away all of the unnecessary dropdowns, buttons, and menus of other systems. 

WorkPatterns puts everything from one-on-one meetings and team meetings to continuous feedback & recognition and goal tracking all in one place.

For more leadership advice just like this, check out our resources, which are dedicated to improving workplace relationships. If you have any questions about anything you read or how to utilize Charma, reach out to our team at any time.

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