SMART Goals: The Comprehensive Guide for 2024

SMART goals have become the standard for creating goals that HR can track and employees can achieve.  That said, most managers likely still have questions. What makes SMART goals so much better than other goal-setting systems? Why are smart goals important, and, most critically, how can you write a SMART goal? 

The good news is that we’re here to help. Writing SMART goals is a lot easier than you think, and it has serious benefits for your organization. From increasing measurability to improving employee growth and motivation, SMART goals are the ideal performance management tool to implement for your next goal-setting cycle. 

Ready to find out how to write SMART goals? Let’s get started. 

What are SMART goals? 

SMART stands for goals that are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-constrained

These goals were developed by George T. Doran in 1981 as a way to improve project management. Originally, he proposed that these goals be specific, measurable, assignable, relevant, and time-related. Over time, the meaning has shifted slightly – going from assignable to achievable and time-related to time-constrained. 

But why is it that goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-constrained are so valued in performance management? What makes SMART goals better than non-specific goals? Well…

The benefits of SMART goals 

Implementing SMART goals in your organization can pay significant dividends – particularly when it comes to measuring goal completion. 

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Let’s take a look at the major benefits of SMART goals that you’ll gain: 

Easy to measure 

In today’s modern workforce, progress needs to be quantifiable. Companies need to see how employees and teams are growing – and how this growth ultimately helps further the company’s strategic goals

Goals are no exception. A non-measurable goal, such as “support sales” proves difficult to analyze. Is the person progressing in “supporting sales?” Are they growing? Without a measure, there is no benchmark to analyze development. 

SMART goals, by definition, must be measurable. Instead of “support sales,” the goal becomes “book six demos a month.” This is measurable. A manager can see how their direct report stacks up against the goal, and help the employee take active steps to achieve their goal. 

Relevant to your position 

SMART goals are relevant to your position at work. This keeps the goal focused on your professional growth. If, for example, your job is “executive assistant,” then your goal might be to “book all executive’s travel within one week of request.” This is relevant to the job you have and is relevant to your performance as an executive assistant. 

If your goal were to “book six demos a month,” that wouldn’t be relevant to your position as an executive assistant. Focusing on booking those demos would come at the expense of your performance as an executive assistant. By keeping goals relevant, we ensure that their completion benefits our performance in our roles. 

Achievable goals increase motivation

Impossible goals and targets are demotivating. If an employee knows that no matter how hard they work, they’ll never hit their sales target, then they aren’t going to work hard to hit that metric. However, when goals are achievable, employees are motivated to see a goal to completion. 

The key is to make sure the goals are achievable, but not too achievable. If an employee can achieve the goal without breaking a sweat, then they aren’t growing. Calibrating goal setting is a challenge and one that you’ll need to work on at your organization continuously. 

SMART goals have an end date 

SMART goals are not open-ended; they have deadlines. Without deadlines, it is all too easy for goals to remain unactualized dreams. Let's say yourCOO mentioned how great it would be to put out a style guide. Her stated goal was to “put together a style guide when we had time.” However, she never put a deadline on the completion of the style guide, and as a result, it kept getting pushed back as more time-constrained projects arose. 

Another manager, however, wanted us to generate a white paper. Her deadline: was the end of the quarter. Amazingly, that project was completed in time. 

By putting a deadline to each goal, you define the point at which success or failure is determined. This ultimately motivates employees to achieve their goals. 

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Cons of SMART goals 

We are big proponents of SMART goals, but there are a few drawbacks that you need to be aware of. Here are a few SMART goal cons you should take note of before you implement a SMART goal program. 

Employees may be incentivized to choose easy goals 

If success at your organization is measured by achieving goals, then employees may be incentivized to choose easy-to-achieve goals. 

Say that your organization grades performance only by looking at whether goals were achieved or missed – pass/fail. 

Now, if you’re a salesman, are you going to create a hard goal for yourself (say, to sell $100,000 in software each month) or are you going to create an easy goal for yourself (make 1 deal a month), knowing that achieving your goals is the only metric that matters. 

You’d choose the easy goal, right? 

This can be the problem with SMART goals. However, this problem isn’t unsolvable. HR can work with the manager to ensure that all employees set appropriately challenging goals. Additionally, companies can encourage managers to examine goals periodically throughout a performance cycle, to determine if the goals are still appropriate, and (if necessary) reformulate the goals to make them more manageable. 

Non-goal-oriented jobs may be difficult to align with SMART goals 

Some jobs, like sales, are goal-oriented: book X amount of demos, close Y amount of deals. 

Other jobs are a little harder to break down into quantifiable goals. For example, an office manager. Their duties (such as ordering supplies and opening the office) aren’t as easy to align with quantifiable goals. This can be addressed by turning the completion of duties into measurable goals. As an example, “ordering supplies,” can be turned into, “take inventory 1x a week, order any supplies that are below 25% full.” This is a more specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-constrained goal. 

How to write a SMART GOAL

SMART goals are: 

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-constrained

These goals are meant to help employees focus on the critical components of their jobs. By employing SMART goals, employees can focus their efforts on what is needed to not only perform their jobs but to exceed and grow. 

The best way to write a SMART goal? Make sure that it fits each of the SMART criteria.

Focus on your core responsibilities

Before you start building out your SMART goals, you should first identify your core responsibilities at your job. The next step will be to transform each of these core responsibilities into a SMART goal – a measurable objective that you can achieve.

H3: Make your goal specific

The first metric a SMART goal must meet is “specific.” This means that your goal has a specific outcome – not something vague. 

A non-specific goal could be something like “improves customer satisfaction.” That’s not specific – as “improves” could be defined in numerous ways, as could “customer satisfaction.” 

A more specific answer could be “improves customer satisfaction survey results.” With this answer, we see that “customer satisfaction,” is defined through “survey results.” 

However, we could be more specific. We could improve this goal to “increase customer satisfaction survey results from 70% to 80% satisfied.” 

Now, we have a specific goal – to increase the rate of satisfied customers from 70% to 80% on a customer survey. 

H3: Make your goal measurable

Measurable and specific go hand-in-hand. 

A measurable goal includes a metric or metrics so that those tracking the goal know when it has been achieved. This is the critical part of “measurable;” it helps us determine if the goal has been achieved or how close we are to achieving the goal. 

Let’s look at another example. Say our goal was to “be a better writer next month.” That’s not “measurable,” because we haven’t defined a metric. 

Instead, we could use the metrics:

  • Words written per month
  • Articles published per month
  • Emails written per month
  • Time per article
  • Errors per article 

So, a measurable goal could be to “write 10 articles per month.” This is a metric that employees and managers can use to measure progress throughout the goal cycle. If, at the halfway point, the employee has only written 3 articles, it may be time to reevaluate the goal. 

Make your goal achievable

Goals need to be within reach. They don’t need to be so simple that they don’t require effort, but they can’t be so ambitious that they are likely to fail. Instead, they need to be calibrated so that their achievement is possible with concerted effort and focus. It’s a balancing act. 

In our experience, these most achievable goals are personalized goals. Let’s say that you manage a team of recruiters. Some of these recruiters have worked for the company for 3 years, others for a few months. Some are generalists, while others specialize in hard-to-fill technical roles. 

Since each of these roles is different – and each of these employees has different levels of experience – having the same goal for each recruiter wouldn’t be fair or achievable. Sure, the seasoned recruiter may have no problem filling 6 roles in a quarter, but the technical recruiter who handles niche roles might not meet this metric.

In this instance, a good manager would partner with each recruiter to find an achievable and challenging metric for each recruiter to meet. This might be 2 roles for the new recruiter, 6 for the generalist, and 4 for the technical recruiter. 

Make your goals relevant to the job

If you’re an accountant, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for your goal to be “bake a cake 3 times a quarter.” 

Sure, that is a measurable goal, it is even achievable, specific, and time-constrained. That said, it has no relevance to the job the accountant performs. 

When a goal isn’t relevant, an employee ends up expending precious time and resources developing a skill that doesn’t support their development or that of the company.

Instead, the SMART goal needs to be relevant to the employee's job. 

For an accountant, this might mean prepping seven tax returns each week. Or, it could be to take a LinkedIn learning course on international tax law in the next quarter. Both of these are relevant to their job, help boost company productivity, and help the employee grow and develop. 

Make it time-constrained

Lastly, your goal needs to have a deadline. When you don’t set a deadline for your goals, you wind up being unable to fail your goals. 

Think about it: if your goal is to “make ten sales,” then you could make ten sales anytime. If you don’t get to it this quarter, no problem, you can keep trying. 

When we set a deadline, we create conditions to succeed or fail. Suddenly, making ten sales this quarter becomes a lot more urgent. If we don’t work hard, we could fail at this goal. This deadline helps motivate us to ultimately succeed. 

What are some SMART goal examples? 

Now that we’ve taken a look at the steps needed to create a SMART goal, let’s look at a few examples of SMART goals so that you can see how these goals include all the SMART criteria. 

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Sales SMART goals 

  • Book one demo a week for the next quarter 
  • Increase sales win rate by 15% in the next month
  • Make 60 cold calls every day for the next quarter
  • Close three deals in the next month

Marketing SMART goals 

  • Complete 18 blogs over the next quarter
  • Publish one white paper in the next month
  • Increase email Open Rate to 25% average by next quarter
  • Increase CTR to 7% average end-of-year

Personal development SMART goals

  • Complete the LinkedIn learning course on demand generation this month
  • Book 3 sessions with the internal career coach this quarter
  • Complete the latest training module on Salesforce this quarter

Each of these goals is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-constrained. Notice how we have specific metrics and deadlines? See how each of these goals is related to a specific job function. These are the critical components that make SMART goals unique. 

Tips for writing SMART goals 

When implementing a new program, you must get buy-in from the company early on in the process. The best way to get buy-in is to make sure that the rollout is effective and that the process is well-communicated. 

Here are some tips to make sure that your SMART goal implementation goes seamlessly.

Teach employees how to create SMART goals

HR needs to proactively teach employees how to use the SMART criteria for goal setting. This can be accomplished through training videos, emails, presentations, and small-group training sessions. In our experience, using at least two methods to communicate the SMART goal system is the optimal way to make sure these concepts are internalized. 

Fewer is better

When developing SMART goals, employees should focus on the core responsibilities of their job that they wish to excel at and improve upon. 

To make sure that these goals are achievable, it is best to limit the number of goals each employee takes on. In our experience 3 is ideal, and anything above 5 is too many. When you get into 6-7 goals a quarter, you wind up not being able to devote sufficient time to each goal, and the overall completion rate suffers.

Stick to 3 goals that cover the core responsibilities of your job and the direction you want to grow. 

Set goals in tandem with managers 

Managers must be involved Managers must believe that we certainly encourage employees to be proactive in their own development, we want to make sure these goals are aligned with team goals and the company’s greater strategy.

Managers should set aside time for 1:1s with each direct report to review their submitted goals, taking time to make sure the goals are relevant, achievable, and challenging. Encourage managers to push back on goals that they view as unreasonably difficult or too easily achieved. 

Have check-ins throughout the performance cycle.

Managers should meet with direct reports throughout the goal cycle to check on progress. If employees are at risk of failing to complete their goals, take time to understand the cause. Does the employee need more training? Are there too many responsibilities on their plate? Or is there an issue out of their control that is affecting performance? 

After determining the root cause, managers should work with employees to decide whether the goal should be modified. If, as an example, a designer’s goal was to produce 3 video ads a quarter, but the Product Marketing team can only review 2 videos in that time, then the goal should be modified to reflect the new circumstances. 

Use a dedicated performance management software 

Lastly, you should make sure that you use performance management software to track goal progress. Performance management software allows employees to set goals and track their progress, while allowing managers to supervise progress and integrate goal setting into the overall performance management process. 

Let’s take a look at how a robust performance management software, like PerformYard, can help you set and achieve SMART goals.

Why should I use performance management software to set SMART goals?

Performance management software like PerformYard is the ideal way to track goal progress and integrate goal management into the overall performance review cycle. 

Instead of tracking goal progress through unworkable spreadsheets, you use single-sign-on software that easily tracks employee progress and lets company management attain a strategic view of overall workforce growth and development. 

Here are the key benefits of using PerformYard as your SMART goal software solution. 

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Set individual goals and track individual progress

With PerformYard, you can individualize the goal-setting process. Each employee can customize their own goals with checklists and incremental steps, along with options for due dates, comments, and feedback. Employees can log their progress and managers can easily see how employees make progress throughout the goal cycle.

Tie goals to Performance Reviews

Since PerformYard also functions as a Performance Management software, it is very easy to tie the goals into the review process. Managers can, without leaving the performance review, see employees’ SMART goal progress and completion, allowing them to easily factor goal completion into the overall performance review. 

Glean Performance Insights

Managers and the C-suite can get a strategic, aerial view of how both teams and individual employees are progressing on their goals – both in the present and over time. This makes it easy to see which teams are performing strongly and which teams might need some additional support. 

PerformYard has a whole host of additional great SMART goal features that you can take advantage of, including:

  • Weighting Goals
  • Cascading Goals 
  • Sub-goals
  • Goal Check-ins

To discover all the key benefits of using PerformYard as your SMART goal software, check out our blog here.

Using PerformYard to set SMART goals 

SMART goals are the gold standard for goal management, because they help employees develop traceable, achievable goals that encompass their core competencies. 

But employees need help managing the goal setting process – it’s critical that goal-settingbust SMART goal software to set goals and track employee growth. 

PerformYard combines goal management and performance review in one easy-to-use performance management platform. PerformYard keeps your goals centrally located, provides updates and analysis automatically, and integrates your goals automatically into your performance management process.

This integration streamlines the performance review cycle by giving managers and employees a transparent view of their SMART goal progress during the review period -- all without leaving the performance review platform. 

We’re excited to show you how PerformYard streamlines your performance management process -- from SMART goal setting to performance reviews. 

Get in touch to see how PerformYard can help you set and achieve your SMART goals.

Build SMART goals into your reviews with a streamlined performance management platform.Learn More


What does SMART goal stand for? 

SMART goal stands for goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-constrained. 

What are the SMART criteria? 

The SMART criteria refers to goals that meet the five componerefer SMART goals – namely Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-constrained.

Are there any SMART goal alternatives? 

Though the SMART goal remains the gold standard of goal-setting, there are a few other goal systems you can use if you find the SMART goal system doesn’t work for your organization. 

They are: 

PACT: Purposeful, actionable, continuous, trackable

FAST: Frequently discussed, ambitious, specific, transparent

WOOP: wish, outcome, obstacle, plan 

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