October 2014: Setting and Communicating S.M.A.R.T. Goals

I wanted to write this month about delegation – something that many struggle with from newly promoted first time managers to the most experienced managers who simply just take on too much. But, to properly address delegation, a leader must have a firm grasp on and become proficient in setting, communicating, monitoring, and evaluating goals. I feel the easiest way to accomplish this is through the use of S.M.A.R.T. goals format. So let’s cover that topic first and delegation second.


S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym that spells out how to set goals.


S – Specific

M – Measurable

A – Aligned

R – Realistic

T – Timed


Miss one of the letters and you risk missing the goal altogether because it simply wasn’t clear enough.


Quite honestly, when I bring up this topic, I am surprised at the blank stares I get or the confusion, because there are a few versions of the acronym floating out there. But regardless of what words you pick, start having the discipline to write and speak in the S.M.A.R.T. format – it will eliminate so much confusion and lack of accountability. It will also force you as a leader to communicate goals properly.


Wikipedia does a good roll up of different acronyms in use out there (see chart below). Regardless of what one you pick, just pick one and train yourself and your staff to use that format – always. Also – one word of caution – don’t mix and match. For example, if you want to use “Achievable” for A, you can’t use “Realistic” for R – that means the same thing – you would instead use “relevant” to cover the “aligned” concept. Honestly, it is unfortunate that so many versions have come out – it just muddies the water in what is actually a VERY simple tool. If you are seeing this concept for the first time or haven’t adopted one already, please indulge me and just use S-Specific, M-Measurable, A-Aligned, R-Realistic, T-Timed. Clean. Simple. Easy to remember.


In the end, SMART goals are like most leadership principles and practice. They are not hard to understand intellectually. In fact quite the opposite – they are EASY. But what is hard is having the discipline to master the skill and to put it into your daily practices and routines. Even those that know the acronym too often forget to hand out assignments or tasks in this format. When you do forget, you will find you missed the mark of giving clear and well-defined instructions.


When giving yourself or others a goal – using the S.M.A.R.T. format forces you to cover critical information to complete the job and helps ensure accountable with the “M” and the “T”.


When assigning tasks – even with the SMART format as your guide, don’t forget to let people know:

  • Who is overall responsible for the results (SPA – single person of accountability). You should cover this in the “Specific” statement.
  • What support and resources you can provide (your role). You can cover this in your “Realistic” statement.
  • Why they are doing it. (Where this falls in the organization’s priorities). You can cover this in the “Aligned” statement.


Don’t be fooled – this is harder than it looks. Once again – simple concept, but even after sitting through a 60-90 minute training session 1 out of 3 people still struggle to write and form goals in the SMART format. Old habits die hard and most people are in the habit of fuzzy goals. Don’t get discouraged – literally write the acronym down on a piece of paper, keep it in your desk drawer and when setting a goal pull it out – simply go letter by letter to double check your work to ensure you were specific in your goal setting.


In no time you will be setting SMART goals without even thinking about it. You will be happier, your team will be happier, and of course your boss will be happier as your team knocks out task after task more efficiently due to clarity and focus.


SMART Criteria (via Wikipedia)

SMART criteria are commonly attributed to Peter Drucker’s management by objectives concept. The first-known use of the term occurs in the November 1981 issue of Management Review by George T. Doran. The principal advantage of SMART objectives is that they are easier to understand, to do, and then be reassured that they have been done. Each letter in SMART refers to a different criterion for judging objectives. Different sources use the letters to refer to different things. Typically accepted criteria are as follows.


Creating S.M.A.R.T. Goals (via Top Achievement)

“Specific: A specific goal has a much greater chance of being accomplished than a general goal. To set a specific goal you must answer the six “W” questions:

Who: Who is involved?

What: What do I want to accomplish?

Where: Identify a location.

When: Establish a time frame.

Which: Identify requirements and constraints.

Why: Specific reasons, purpose or benefits of accomplishing the goal.

EXAMPLE: A general goal would be, “Get in shape.” But a specific goal would say, “Join a health club and workout 3 days a week.”


The 5 Steps to Setting SMART Business Goals (via About.com Small Business Information)

“Whether you have a 50-employee company or an empire of one, your business success depends on your ability to set and achieve goals. Put your business on the fast-track by applying the principles of SMART goal setting. S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym for the 5 steps of specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based goals. It’s a simple tool used by businesses to go beyond the realm of fuzzy goal-setting into an actionable plan for results.”


It’s Time to Create SMARTER Goals (via Huffington Post)

This article talks about a recent trend to add “E” and “R” to the classic SMART goals and form the word SMARTER – but adding “Everyone” and “Revisited”.


- Tom Deierlein


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