stakeholdermap.com logo
Business, Leadership, Management and Careers
Collaborative Online Mind Mapping:
  • #1 Mind Mapping Tool
  • Collaborate Anywhere
  • Stunning Presentations
  • Simple Project Management
  • Innovative Project Planning
  • Creative Problem Solving
Mind Maps

How to set SMART goals with a FREE template

Have you ever heard of the term SMART goals? It stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely. It is an incredibly popular way to write business and personal goals that will dramatically increase your chances of success. This is the ultimate guide to creating SMART goals! By the end of this article you will know:
Excel template for setting SMART goals
Download your SMART goals template

Where did SMART come from?

Peter F. Drucker, a groundbreaking business management consultant, first coined the term "management by objectives" in his revolutionary 1954 book titled The Practice of Management. He defined management by objectives as the setting of quantitative or qualitative objectives within a given time scale, and he argued that employees should play an active part in setting goals to measure and evaluate their performance — the building blocks of what we now call SMART goal setting! (Guillaume, 2015. pg. 6).

The origin of the SMART acronym is difficult to trace, however, most people credit George Doran's article There's a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management's goals and objectives published in the November 1981 issue of Management Review (McGrath & Bates, 2018. pg. 244). Since then SMART has become widely accepted as a way of creating goals and objectives. There are many different opinions on what SMART should stand for, but Doran defined it as Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic and Time-related (Doran, 1981. pg. 36).

What is a SMART Goal?

SMART goals are objectives or tasks that help guide you towards achieving your desired outcomes. Doran defined the A as Assignable and R as Realistic, but we prefer these meanings:
  • Specific – Goals should be as specific as possible to ensure clarity and focus.
  • Measurable – Objectives should be measurable so they can be tracked and monitored easily.
  • Achievable – Make sure your goals are achievable; setting unrealistic expectations can lead to disappointment and lack of motivation.
  • Relevant – Goals should be relevant to your current situation and aligned with long-term objectives.
  • Time-bound – Provide yourself with deadlines to stay on track and create a sense of urgency.
Since Doran's article several extensions of SMART have been proposed. McGrath and Bates mention that in recent years SMART has been extended to SMARTER adding Exciting and Rewarding. There is no right or wrong version of SMART, just choose what works for you. See Versions of SMART and Extensions of SMART.
The SMART approach to target setting is one of the simplest, but most versatile tools that you have in your toolbox." (McGrath and Bates, 2017. pg. 245).
You can use it for a multitude of activities including:
  • strategic planning
  • project management
  • setting team goals
  • performance reviews
  • personal goal setting
  • planning your career
SMART's remarkable power, is that it guides you to prioritize outcomes over activities and processes.

Tips for setting SMART goals

It should also be understood that the suggested acronym doesn't mean that every objective written will have all five criteria. However, the closer we get to the SMART criteria as a guide line, the smarter our objectives will be (Doran, 1981)
Doran explains that we don't need to force every objective to meet all five criteria and that it won't always be possible to find a way of measuring success. That said, refining an objective by thinking about how to meet each criterion increases the likelihood that you will complete it. Use these tips to make your objectives smarter!

General tips

  • To increase your chances of success, break down a large goal into smaller goals that are more achievable and less intimidating.
  • Set up regular check-ins to review progress. If progress is slow you change or simplify the goal to make it more attainable.
  • Use a SMART goal-setting template to help you make sure your goal meets each SMART criteria.

Specific

  • Describe what you expect in as much detail as you can.
  • Name names, say who will do the work.
  • Specify who is accountable. This is particularly important for goals that involve several people or teams working together.
  • Answer 'W' questions to get to the detail: what, when, who, why, and where.
  • Use action verbs. These are words that express a physical or mental action, for example, build, create, sit, read, and write. These are better than words like 'improve', 'reduce' or 'increase' which are not as specific. This doesn't mean you can't use 'improve' but you might expand on 'improve donations by 3%' by adding action verbs so it is more detailed and specific, for example:
    Improve donations by 3% by calling all 100 donors who have sponsored an animal this year and asking for a $10 increase in their monthly donation
    Examples of useful action verbs: Add, Administer, Arrange, Book, Build, Call, Contact, Coordinate, Create, Develop, Direct, Evaluate, Implement, Maintain, Manage, Oversee, Plan, Process, Produce, Provide, Read, Reconcile, Supervise, Support, Transition, Update, Upgrade, Write.

Measurable

  • Describe how you will know that you have completed the objective. Ideally, it should be a direct measure of what success for a particular goal will look like.
  • Sometimes measuring success is hard and you may need to change a goal if you can't find a relevant data source with a feasible collection method. If you can't find a way to measure the goal then it may not be achievable.
  • Public sector organisations are great at creating fabulous-sounding objectives that are not measurable and not achievable. Sometimes this is because there simply isn't any measurement in place. For example, I once worked with a manager of an educational charity who suggested every employee have a professional development goal to "contribute to improving the aspirations of secondary school children" sounds amazing, but there was no way of measuring school children's aspirations, and frankly, the goal wasn't remotely achievable for her team who were all office administrators.
  • Remember that measurement methods can be quantitative (reduced downtime, cost reduction, revenue earned, etc.) and qualitative (customer endorsements, polls, surveys, etc.). For example, a qualitative measure could be 'in the next quarterly user survey 85% system users agree or strongly agree that....'.
  • Include the tasks you need to do to measure success in the goal's action plan.
    • Examples of data types
    • Customer satisfaction
    • Amounts created
    • Revenue generated
    • Profit Margin
    • Productivity measures
    • Feedback ratings
    • Net promoter score
    • Stress test metrics
    • Automated quality control metrics
    • Time to market
    • Examples of data sources
    • audits
    • automated machine data collection
    • census data
    • company reports
    • diaries
    • focus groups
    • interviews
    • market research
    • observation
    • questionnaires
    • sales reports
    • samples
    • sensor data collection
    • surveys
    • product tests

Achievable

When we fail to meet an unachievable goal it is demotivating and stressful. Yet we often set ourselves impossible objectives because we tend to be overconfident in our abilities and knowledge. Psychologists call this overconfidence bias and everyone across all walks of life are susceptible.

Achievable is not meant to make you avoid challenging goals, but to get you realistically assess your situation and think about what you can do to make the goal attainable. For example, you may need to gain new skills.

For business goals think about:
  • whether you have the people, resources, and authority to accomplish the objective
  • if external factors impact the chances of you reaching your goal. For example, an economic recession may make a goal unachievable.
  • consider if there may be internal factors beyond your control. For example, the outcome of company restructuring may impact your chances of meeting the goal.
For personal goals think about:
  • what steps you would take to accomplish the goal
  • whether you have the time
  • if you have tools and resources you need
  • if you have the skills and knowledge needed
  • if your answer is 'no' to some of these considerations think about what it would take to remove the blocker. In other words, not having the time doesn't necessarily mean that the goal should be binned. Instead, make a plan for freeing up your time.

Relevant

This step is about ensuring that your goal is worthwhile and that it aligns with you and/or your company. In your personal life, it is ok to set fun goals, but in business, the objective setting needs to be relevant to the company's mission and strategy. At work setting a performance development goal to learn about coding may be interesting to you, but may not be relevant to your job as a marketing executive. Check whether your objective:
  • feels worthwhile
  • makes sense to do at this time
  • is best completed by your or your team. Is another team better placed to achieve the goal?
  • helps you meet another personal or professional goal.
  • aligns with your company or team targets.
  • aligns with your mission/vision.
  • is appropriate in this socio-economic environment.

Timebound

In 1783, a mysterious admirer of Mary-Antoinette ordered a watch for the queen from the famous watchmaker Breguet. The watch was to be spectacular, gold would replace other metals wherever possible, and there should be as many auxiliary mechanisms as feasible. No time or financial limits were imposed. The watch wasn't finished until 1827, 34 years after the queen's death and 44 years after the order was placed.

The watch known as the "Grande Complication" took forever because no time limit was set on the order. The lesson is clear, set a time limit on your goal, if you don't it may never get done!

The last letter of SMART reminds you to set a time limit on your goal. This doesn't just have to be a deadline for completion, it will also help if you set dates for checking progress. For long-term goals create a schedule with the tasks and due dates that you need to meet. For each of your objectives:
  • Document when it should be completed.
  • Include dates or milestones when you will check on progress.

27 examples of SMART targets for business and your personal life

Business and marketing goals

  1. Work with our top 50 customers to create and publish 25 new customer case studies this fiscal year.
  2. Increase overall website traffic (unique visitors) by 10% per month by end of the calendar year.
  3. Acquire 500 new pro subscribers (customers) this financial year at an average cost per acquisition (CPA) of £25 with an average profitability of £5.
  4. Using special offers and other incentives, increase the average order value of each online sale to £50 per customer this year.
  5. Reduce customer churn by 50% by 2024.

Ongoing and operational business goals

  1. Achieve 90% 'would recommend to a friend' from current account banking customers on an ongoing basis.
  2. Send invoices to customers within 2 days of receipt of the work completion certificate.
  3. Triage all patients in Accident and Emergency within 2 hours of their arrival.
  4. Resolve 90% of customer complaints without the need for escalation to the complaints team on an ongoing basis.
  5. Instruct, audit and enforce to ensure that 96% of registered businesses meet all regulatory requirements on an ongoing basis.

Project goals

  1. Add a Chatbot to the website ACME x2 product pages, to increase downloads of the 30-day free trial by 15% in 2 fiscal years.
  2. Increase productivity of the assembly line by 30% by implementing automated polishing by dd/mm/yyyy.
  3. Develop a quality improvement process in the camera service department that will reduce customer complaints by 25% within six months.
  4. Establish a new office location and staff it with 25 employees in three months to support the company's expansion into the west coast market.
  5. Complete the Energy Watch Program to reduce countywide carbon emissions by 605 tons by the end of the fiscal year.
  6. Evaluate the current customer relations management system and identify a better solution by dd/mm/yyyy.

Performance development goals / job objectives for employees and managers

  1. Coach and support my staff so that they attain their performance plan goals to deliver 90% of their projects within time and cost.
  2. Effectively manage my projects and time so that I achieve average billable hours of 75% for this quarter.
  3. Complete and pass 100% of mandatory training within the deadline.
  4. Manage department expenses to stay within budget and accomplish 85% of service results by the end of this fiscal year.
  5. Increase my sales team’s close rate by 25% in four months.
  6. Improve the accuracy of on-time deliveries from 85% to 95% over the next six months.

Personal goals

  1. Work on my Spanish language skills to an intermediate level, taking one class per quarter starting January.
  2. I will sign up for dance classes by the end of this week.
  3. By the end of April, I will have saved £1000 in my savings account.
  4. I will run 5km twice a week and participate in one running race by June this year.
  5. I will read four books on self-development each month and write a blog post reviewing each book.

Variations of SMART

SMART is over 40 years old and its popularity has inevitably led to different versions tailored to fit particular situations or to fix perceived problems with the model. This table shows the most common variations:
Criteria Variation

S

Specific, simple, significant, sustainable, stretch, synergistic

M

Measurable, manageable, meaningful, motivating

A

Achievable, acceptable, accountable, actionable, adjustable, agreed-upon, ambitious, attainable

R

Relevant, realistic, result-oriented, rewarding

T

Time-bound, tangible, thoughtful, trackable

Extensions of SMART

Some experts have proposed extensions to SMART. An often-used example is SMARTER of which again there are several variations.
Criteria Variation

S

Specific, simple, significant, sustainable, stretch, synergistic

M

Measurable, manageable, meaningful, motivating

A

Achievable, acceptable, accountable, actionable, adjustable, agreed-upon, ambitious, attainable

R

Relevant, realistic, result-oriented, rewarding

T

Time-bound, tangible, thoughtful, trackable

E

Evaluated, ethical, ecological, equitable, enhancing

R

Reviewed, recordable, rewarding
More extensions:
  • SMART - C -'c' is challenging or collaborative.
  • SMART - S - 's' is stretch, sustainable or significant.
  • SMAART - were the second 'a' is actionable.

Criticisms of SMART

SMART has been around for a long time and has attracted some arguably overzealous enthusiasts who take meeting each criterion rather seriously. This has generated three common complaints:

SMART stifles long-term goals

No great innovation or human leap forward came from a predictable path or an idea that was immediately 'attainable’ or 'realistic.’ (Burchard, 2014)
Brendon Burchard, a bestselling author and motivational trainer has pointed out that using SMART can lead some companies to resist setting long-term ambitious goals because they get stuck on Achievable, Attainable or Realistic.

SMART excuses a lack of ambition

When agreeing on job performance goals some employees may be tempted to dumb down to meet the SMART criteria. Meeting the criteria Achievable and Measurable can be a good way to strip back a challenging objective to a 'tick in the box'. In the UK and US private sector companies regularly make decisions on who will or won't be made redundant based on their performance against objectives. In these environments, it is understandable if staff focus on ‘achievable’ & ‘measurable’ and it is the fault of the company culture rather than SMART if they do.

Measurable is not always possible

Not all goals can be measured. Some things are either done or not done, for example, upgrading a legacy piece of software. Some things aren't measured yet or aren't possible to measure. For example, how to measure school children's aspirations when there is no direct measurement in place and no proven causal relationship between academic results and aspiration. In other cases, it may be too difficult or expensive to measure success.

SMART is not adjustable

Lastly, SMART doesn’t prompt you to review your objectives, so it is easy to see setting SMART goals as a one off task. In reality, companies need to regularly review their goals and change them if they no longer make sense. A variant of SMART changes 'A' to adjustable to try to cater for this tendency.

Alternatives to SMART: Big Hairy Audacious goals and DUMB

Seemingly incompatible with SMART are BHAGs. In their 1994 book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras describe how visionary companies have Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAG).

BHAG
  • Big
  • Hairy
  • Audicious
  • Goals
A BHAG is a long-term goal that is challenging and exciting enough to inspire big-picture action. Because they are big and audacious, BHAGs are energising and uplifting, there is nothing 'tick-box' about a BHAG.

The DUMB alternative to SMART

Brendon Burchard is highly critical of what he perceives as a tendency for SMART goals to be unambitious. He rather rudely describes them as leading to 'utterly predictable and absurdly measured, small plans for small people who need certainty and safety'. (Burchard, 2014). He proposes a tongue-in-cheek alternative:

DUMB
  • Dream-driven
  • Uplifting
  • Method-friendly
  • Behavior-triggered
In our opinion, there is a place for DUMB, BHAG and SMART. These approaches and their variations fulfil a real-world need to think big and make things happen. Companies use DUMB and BHAG for visionary 'blue-sky' thinking and SMART for implementation.

5 things top psychologists recommend you do if you don't meet your goal

Sometimes you won't be able to meet your goal, which can be dispiriting and demotivating. Don't let it get you down, check out these positive ways to pick yourself up and move forward!
Remember: it’s not really about the destination. It’s about getting the most out of your journey to success." (Haiyang Yong et. al.) Harvard Business Review.

Celebrate small wins:

Ok, so you didn't get the result, but you made progress and that proves that you can make positive changes. Celebrate what you did achieve and use the positive feedback to move forward.

Don’t wallow in the failure:

Don't wallow in your sense of failure, instead think about your journey and focus on what went well. When you are ready you can also ask yourself what didn't go so well and start to learn lessons for next time. This process will improve your confidence and help you with setting future goals.

Ask yourself honestly, have you achieved some “accidental” or related benefits?

So you didn't meet your goal, but you may have achieved some benefits along the way. For example, a project might be delivered late, but an important feature was added to the project product which will have the unexpected benefit of reducing running costs.

Ask for an objective review from a trusted person

A post-goal review from an objective and a trusted person can help you get to the bottom of what went wrong. Often we don't have enough distance or emotional energy to learn lessons. An impartial friend can identify what you need to do differently next time.

What would a third party say?

Ask yourself how a third party would describe the situation. Would they see your project as a failure, because it went live 1 week late or would they observe a working product that once embedded will bring multiple benefits to the company? Would your friend see a person who failed on their exercise goals or someone who is committed to a new habit and working hard to achieve it?
See Haiyang Yong et. al. Why we set unattainable goals for more detail.

In conclusion, SMART goals are an incredibly popular and effective tool for setting and achieving objectives in the workplace and your personal life. There are many variations and extensions of SMART that you can choose to best fit your situation. Critics have argued that SMART doesn't encourage long-term goals and can stifle ambition, and when thinking big BHAG or DUMB might be a better starting point. Ultimately though, the most important thing is to set relevant goals, that are clearly defined, measurable if possible, have an achievable plan and have a timeline.

Download the template!

Excel download - SMART goals template (.xlsx)

Excel 97 - 2003 download - SMART goals template (.xls)

OpenDocument spreadsheet download - SMART goals template (.ods)

References

Ant Hive Media (2016) Jim Collins and Jerry Porras' built to last: Successful habits of visionary companies summary, Scribd. Ant Hive Media. Available at: https://www.scribd.com/read/309816639/Jim-Collins-and-Jerry-Porras-Built-To-Last-Successful-Habits-of-Visionary-Companies-Summary (Accessed: January 30, 2023).

Burchard, B. (2014) The problem with "smart" goals, The Charged Life. Available at: https://brendonburchard.tumblr.com/post/76479412109/the-problem-with-smart-goals (Accessed: January 26, 2023).

University of California. SMART Goals: How to Guide. Available at: https://www.ucop.edu/local-human-resources/_files/performance-appraisal/How%20to%20write%20SMART%20Goals%20v2.pdf. (Accessed: January 27, 2023).

Doran, G.T. (1981) There's a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management's goals and objectives - George T. Doran - Management Review (1981) PDF, Scribd. Scribd. Available at: https://www.scribd.com/document/458234239/There-s-a-S-M-A-R-T-way-to-write-management-s-goals-and-objectives-George-T-Doran-Management-Review-1981-pdf# (Accessed: January 26, 2023).

Guillaume, S. (2015) Smart criteria by 50minutes - ebook, Scribd. Scribd. Available at: https://www.scribd.com/book/306359801/SMART-Criteria-Become-more-successful-by-setting-better-goals (Accessed: January 26, 2023).

Ross, H.M. (2019) Setting some dumb goals, Better Me. Available at: https://betterme.ca/habits/setting-some-dumb-goals/ (Accessed: January 30, 2023).

Yang, H. et al. (2021) Why we set unattainable goals, Harvard Business Review. Available at: https://hbr.org/2021/01/why-we-set-unattainable-goals (Accessed: January 30, 2023).

More Business Templates to download