Writing SMART goals

Writing SMART goals

While SMART goals are generally recognized as a goal management best-practice, writing them is not easy. It takes some practice, but especially vigilance, to ensure that an employee's goals are effective. It's easy to get bogged down in the theories, especially since there are several different variations of what the SMART acronym stands for.

When managers and employees know how to write SMART goals, it helps take the subjectivity out of goal setting, and ensures they have a shared set of expectations. The real aim is to specify the who, what, where, when and why for the goal and ensure shared understanding and expectations. All of these elements are critical for helping align goals throughout your organization. Remember, the ultimate purpose is always to help the employee, and by extension, the organization, succeed.

Research has found that as many as half of all workers say they don't know their organization's high level goals. Further, more than half of all workers say don't clearly understand their own goals. How can an organization succeed if its workforce does not have clear, aligned goals?

The elements that make a goal SMART

Here's a practical breakdown of how to make goals SMART. Since there are several different expansions for the SMART acronym, you'll need to consider how your organization defines SMART.

Specific
  • Specifically define what you expect the employee to do/deliver.
  • Avoid generalities and use action verbs as much as possible.
  • The level of detail you need to provide depends on the employee's personality and their experience level. For example, a highly autonomous or experienced employee will need less detail than a less confident or seasoned one.
Measurable
  • Identify how you will measure success— usually stated in terms of quantity, quality, timeliness or cost (e.g. increase by 25%).
Actionable/ Achievable
  • Make sure that accomplishing the goal is within the employee's realm of authority and capabilities.
  • Can the employee successfully complete this goal with the skills, resources and time available to them?
  • Are there factors beyond their control that need to be considered?
  • While considering whether a goal is actionable/achievable, you also need to consider the employee's total set of goals. While each individual goal may be achievable, overall, you may be assigning the employee more goals than they could reasonably be expected to successfully complete.
Agree upon
  • Make sure that both the employee and manager agree to all the elements of the goal, and have a shared understanding of expectations for its outcome.
Realistic
  • Ensure the goal is practical, results-oriented and within the employee's realm of authority and capabilities.
Relevant
  • Make sure the goal is relevant to the employee's role, skills and qualifications.
  • Where appropriate, link the goal to a higher-level departmental or organizational goal, and ensure that the employee understands how their goal and actions contributes to the attainment of the higher level goal. This gives the employee a context for their work.
Time-bound
  • Specify when the goal needs to be completed (e.g. by the end of Q2, or every month).

Examples of SMART goals

Here are a few examples of SMART goals that give you an idea of the wording and tone that can be used:

1) Attend the "Assertive Communication" course by the end of Q4 to improve communication and negotiation skills used in team work environments.

2) Title: Manage the execution of the TSHM project.
Description: Maintain an overall plan that tracks project requirements/inputs, deliverables and milestones. Provide the client with weekly status updates, identifying work completed, plans for the coming week, and any challenges/roadblocks, and attend weekly status meetings. Work with the software development manager and QA manager to review weekly work assignments and ensure timely progress on deliverables. Track the identification and resolution of issues, bugs/errors.
Milestones: Email weekly status updates to client by 4 p.m. each Friday.
Due date: Final application files must be delivered to the client by April 30th.

3) Corporate goal: Achieve a 90% customer satisfaction rating for the MDX product by the end of the year.
Individual goal: Create the end user guide for release 10 of the MDX product.
Description: Using the product specification, design specification and user interface specification for input, update the existing MDX release 9 user guide to include all new features and functions included in release 10. Check the Problem Reporting System for any outstanding problem reports pertaining to the release 9 documents, and make updates/edits as required. Test all updated document sections, using the technical trial system to ensure accuracy and completeness. Send the tech trial draft and final documents to the product manager and design manager for review/signoff before release, and incorporate any required changes. Ensure all ISO9000 quality records are completed as required.
Milestones: Draft documents, approved by the product manager, must be available for the product technical trial scheduled to start on August 13, 2013. Final files must be shipped to the printer at least 2 weeks prior to the product release date.
Due date: Product Release, November 19, 2013

Designing your employee evaluation form to support SMART goals

When designing your employee evaluation form, you may want to include some of the following items to encourage and support managers in writing SMART goals:

  • A definition or expansion of the acronym SMART
  • An appropriate example of a SMART goal
  • Sufficient space to provide a detailed description
  • A field to list the higher level organizational goal that this goal is linked to
  • An area to list any important milestones
  • A separate field to capture the way success will be measured
  • A separate field for the due date
  • A limited number of fields to enter goals, to limit the overall number of goals assigned to each employee
 

Take a look at a few sample employee evaluation forms and see how they handle goals.

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