What are SMART goals?

4 minute read | Last updated on 2 February 2021

SMART goals are a fantastic tool that can help you efficiently achieve your goals in any area. SMART is an acronym where each letter stands for several words. Here’s what each letter means.

SMART goals are specific, sensible, significant, simple, measurable, meaningful, motivating, achievable, agreed, relevant, resourced, results-based, time-bound, timely

S — specific, sensible, significant and simple

It’s important that goals are simple because then they’re easy to understand and remember. But simple doesn’t mean they can’t make a big difference. The best goals result in decent improvements and so are significant for the business.

Specific goals are more useful than broad goals because they’re easier to aim for and achieve. And above all, SMART goals make sense for the business.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself when setting SMART goals to ensure you get the ‘S’ part right.

  • What do I want to accomplish?
  • Why is the goal important?
  • Who is involved in achieving the goal?
  • Which resources will you need to achieve the goal?

M — measurable, meaningful and motivating

Setting measurable goals is absolutely vital for any endeavour because if there’s no way to measure outputs and outcomes, there isn’t an objective way to keep track of progress towards the goal there’s no way to determine whether the objective has been successfully achieved.

In addition to being measurable, SMART goals also have meaning or purpose — they’re not just related to vanity metrics. And ensuring goals have meaning also helps make them motivating.

When you set a goal that encourages you and/or your team members to do better, you can achieve great things. On the other hand, if goals are out of reach or too ambitious, they can discourage people from trying because they think they’ll fail. Goals that don’t offer much of a challenge also cause problems because people are often less enthusiastic about achieving such goals, or they can become complacent and then their development can stagnate.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself when setting SMART goals to ensure you get the ‘M’ part right.

  • How much or how many?
  • How will I know when the goal is accomplished?
  • What will it mean to my business if I successfully achieve this goal?
  • Will it be easy for me/us to achieve this goal?
  • Am I excited about the prospect of achieving this goal?

A — achievable and agreed

One quick way to ensure a goal is depressing rather than uplifting and motivational, is to pick an objective that’s clearly unachievable. So SMART goals are always achievable.

If you have a team, it’s also important you get your team’s agreement on the SMART goals you set. If anyone doesn’t agree to a SMART goal, they could become disgruntled and may not try their hardest to achieve it.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself when setting SMART goals to ensure you get the ‘A’ part right.

  • How can I accomplish this goal?
  • How realistic is the goal, based on other constraints, such as financial factors?
  • Have other businesses in a similar position to mine achieved similar sorts of goals?
  • Has everyone in my team agreed to this goal?

A — achievable and agreed

One quick way to ensure a goal is depressing rather than uplifting and motivational, is to pick an objective that’s clearly unachievable. So SMART goals are always achievable.

If you have a team, it’s also important you get your team’s agreement on the SMART goals you set. If anyone doesn’t agree to a SMART goal, they could become disgruntled and may not try their hardest to achieve it.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself when setting SMART goals to ensure you get the ‘A’ part right.

  • How can I accomplish this goal?
  • How realistic is the goal, based on other constraints, such as financial factors?
  • Have other businesses in a similar position to mine achieved similar sorts of goals?
  • Has everyone in my team agreed to this goal?

R — relevant, resourced and results-based

It might seem obvious that SMART goals need to be relevant to the business, but many businesses choose the same goals as their competitors even though those goals aren’t really relevant to their unique circumstances.

Setting results-based goals ties in with ensuring goals are measurable. This doesn’t mean that idealist goals aren’t valuable, but it does mean that idealistic goals should be accompanied by one or more desired results that will occur when those idealistic objectives are achieved. Doing this helps everyone understand the value of the goal and provides a way to objectively measure whether the goal has been achieved.

SMART goals are also resourced when they’re set. This ensures you or your staff aren’t trying to work towards goals without the means necessary to achieve those goals. This is a more common occurrence in larger organisations but it does still happen in smaller businesses.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself when setting SMART goals to ensure you get the ‘R’ part right.

  • Does the goal seem worthwhile?
  • Is this the right time to be aiming for this objective?
  • Does this goal work well with my other objectives and my businesses other activities and needs?
  • Does this goal make sense in the current socioeconomic environment?
  • How much time, money and other resources are required to achieve this goal? Can these be allocated to achieving this objective without compromising other activities?

T — time-bound and timely

It’s important to specify a deadline for achieving goals that makes sense given the available resources and the other activities that will be going on concurrently. A deadline focuses effort, increases motivation, prevents procrastination and defines when to measure results. Having a deadline also prevents everyday tasks from taking priority over long-term goals and ensures there’s adequate time for all goals and activities.

In addition to setting deadlines, it’s also important to ensure each SMART goal makes sense at the time it’s being set. For instance, in many countries it’s not a good idea to set a goal with a 1-month deadline at the beginning of December because the annual Christmas shutdown will get in the road.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself when setting SMART goals to ensure you get the ‘T’ part right.

  • What can I do today?
  • What can I do six weeks from now?
  • What can I do six months from now?
  • When is the best time to start working towards this goal?
  • Is there anything, like a holiday or other work activities, that might impact on the timeframe for this goal?