Setting SMART Objectives

The ability to set stretching, realistic and achievable targets is an essential behaviour for high performing managers. In the past, I have found that goals and objectives can be so large that they can be hard to tackle and almost impossible for employees to achieve. Having business goals and knowing ‘where’ you want to get to is important, but it is equally important to know ‘how’ you are going to get there and keep track of your progress. The SMART acronym for objective setting became popular in mid 1950’s and I still like to use this today as it provides a simple formula to remember and a tick list which is easy to understand.

What are SMART objectives?

S – Specific: Objectives should be focused on the goal and include an action. For example ‘Produce, achieve, develop, implement”

M – Measurable: It is important for objectives to be measurable to allow you to identify whether or not they have been achieved.  The outcome of the objective should be able to be expressed as a number, percentage or frequency. A measurable objective will allow you to say whether the objective or target has been achieved and how many times.

A – Agreed: Objectives should be agreed at the outset. Agreed objectives will act as a motivator as employees will be more committed and ready to invest in an objective which they have agreed to.

R – Realistic: For objectives to be realistic, it is important to consider the skills and resources that are available. Whilst stretching objectives can motivate, if an objective is unlikely or impossible to achieve this will reduce motivation and commitment.

T- Timely: It is important to set a specific time by which the objective should be achieved. This also emphasises the need for measurable and realistic targets. Deadlines can act as a motivator (providing they are realistic) as they help to focus effort to the task at hand.

When SMART objectives become SMARTER

SMART objectives will provide a good framework to work towards hitting goals and they will allow you to identify whether you are on the right track.  However, more recently the SMART acronym has been extended and become SMARTER by adding on two more important characteristics:

E – Energising: Objectives and the process of setting them, should be energising. SMARTER objectives will help to create an engaged and motivate workforce, who understands the business goal and how, individually, they can play their part in achieving it.

R – Reviewed: It is important that objectives are reviewed at the agreed time.  If objectives have a long timeframe, it may be beneficial to review the objectives at specific milestones along the way.  By reviewing the objectives you can identify what has been learned and what could be done better next time.  If objectives have been met or exceeded, it is important to recognise and reward this so that the individual feels valued and appreciated.

One of the most important things to remember when setting objectives, is to keep them simple, easy to understand and achievable. To illustrate the benefits of SMART objectives, consider this ‘not so SMART’ objective:

‘To expand the offering of the business to include two new services and one new product line.’

This objective is too big, not at all specific, measurable, achievable, realistic or timely. It is necessary to break the objective down against each of the SMART characteristics to create a more easily understood and effective objective. After doing so, you may come up with an objective like this:

‘Develop two new services that will benefit 30% of existing client database and be attractive to encourage five prospective clients to engage with business by the end of the current financial year.’

This objective is now far more attractive and real. You could continue to develop the objective further and break it into even more manageable chunks, by focusing on each new service line specifically.

The above example clearly shows the merits of SMART and SMARTER objectives.  If you have set SMARTER objectives, they will be more easily understood by everyone involved and will give your team a good understanding of how they fit into the wider business plan and contribute towards the business goals.

SMART objectives will help to create a motivated, committed and focused workforce which will increase productivity and deliver results.

If you would like to know more about how to integrate SMART objective setting into your workforce, please email debbie@peptalk-uk.com

About Debbie Pepler