Achieving your goals without a plan isn’t just difficult, it’s unlikely—that's where setting SMART goals come in.
According to research from Dominican University, people who write down their objectives accomplish significantly more than those who don’t.
But as many employees can attest, it’s not enough to put ideas on paper. The study also revealed that accountability and public commitment propel us to get more done.
Despite these findings, many companies still struggle to set and achieve objectives in a way that maximizes success for the business—a place where individual, team, and organizational goals should ideally work in harmony.
Luckily, there’s a goal-setting framework for that.
In this article, we offer a detailed definition of the SMART goals framework, along with numerous SMART goals examples designed to help your team effectively plan for results.
What are SMART goals?
Whether we want to improve our fitness, buy a house, or learn a new skill, we can all agree it’s good to define the things we’d like to accomplish.
But problems ensue when we don’t define these things enough. Usually, our goals are too vague and unformed to effectively drive the behaviors needed to see them through.
As a goal-setting framework, the SMART goal acronym forces us to consider the process of goal attainment in addition to the desired outcome.
SMART is an acronym. A SMART goal is smart because it is:
- Achievable (but ambitious)
- Relevant (and realistic)
- Time-bound (or timely)
By emphasizing characteristics the average goal lacks, a SMART goal is less ambiguous, setting the stage for successfully achieving objectives and getting things done. This makes this framework ideal to use along with OKRs (Objective Key Results) or other KPIs that you use to manage job and company performance.
Professional SMART goals examples
Simple (not smart) professional goals: 😕
- Get to know colleagues on other teams
- Run more effective meetings
- Refine cold calling strategy
- Come up with content ideas
- Update knowledge base
SMART professional goals: 👩🎓
- Eat lunch in the common dining area 2x per week
- Define the purpose of every meeting before committing
- Review all cold calls that led to a sale before the end of the quarter
- Conduct a content audit to identify gaps by the end of the week
- Write or update two knowledgebase articles every week
Personal SMART goals examples
Simple (not smart) personal goals: 😕
- Get in shape
- Save money
- Get a new job
- Eat healthier
- Get out more
SMART personal goals: 👩🎓
- Work out at least 3x per week
- Transfer 10% of every paycheck to a savings account
- Spend at least two hours per week looking for and applying to opportunities
- Prepare vegetable side-dishes for dinner every night
- Arrange at least 2 social outings per month
The S in SMART stands for specific, and it’s one of the most important defining features of a SMART goal.
When an organization tasks its sales team with closing more deals, there’s a reason the C-suite doesn’t leave “more” open to interpretation. They’ve already calculated the monthly recurring revenue needed to hit year-end targets—and they use this information to create clear objectives that don’t leave any room for confusion about expectations.
Specificity also extends to non-monetary goals. When a manager puts an employee on a performance improvement plan, for example, they detail exactly what the employee needs to accomplish to avoid termination and keep their job.
In less extreme scenarios, the principle is the same: to define what needs to happen in no uncertain terms.
Examples of SMART goals that are Specific
- Increase website traffic to our home page by 10% in the next 30 days.
- Close $15,000 in sales by the end of the quarter.
- Exercise for 30 minutes every day for the next 7 days.
As management guru Peter Drucker famously said: “What gets measured gets done.” This is especially true when it comes to goal-setting. Measurability promotes accountability.
Take writing a novel, for example. Left unexamined, a lofty goal like this tends to generate a rush of excitement before fizzling into a pipedream.
With the SMART goals framework, any epic undertaking can transform into a series of manageable action items that help us stay the course. If one of your goals is to write a novel, a SMART goal might be something like “spend 1-2 hours each day writing 300 words for the next 6 months.”
But not all goals will require extended plans or have quantitative measures. If you run a bi-weekly team meeting to share project updates, the measure is binary—did team members share the status of their projects? If the answer is yes, you’ve met the goal.
Examples of SMART goals that are Measurable
- Increase LinkedIn followers by 25% in Q3.
- Increase email click-through rate by 2% in the next 3 months.
- Exercise for 30 minutes every day for the next 7 days.
Attainable (but Ambitious)
Attainable goals matter more than many businesses realize. Companies that overreach without considering whether its goals are actually achievable tend to miss targets while inadvertently hurting morale in the process.
On the flip side, organizations that can accurately forecast what’s possible are more likely to meet targets and maintain enthusiasm across teams.
This isn’t to suggest that businesses should avoid setting ambitious goals (growth often depends on it), but balancing the aspirational with the probable is key to consistently hitting them.
Examples of SMART goals that are ambitious (but attainable)
- Increase newsletter sign-ups by 10% month over month.
- Close $30,000 in sales by the end of the quarter.
- Strength-train for 1 hour 3x every week.
Relevant (and Realistic)
Metrics matter, but sometimes we can become so focused on numbers we lose sight of the factors that influence our ability to hit them.
This happens personally and professionally, which is why SMART goals should be relevant and realistic for the individual, the team, and the business.
Without both characteristics in play, companies can default to setting goals for goals’ sake—a practice that often leads to poor decision making and wasted time at best, and low morale and unethical behavior at worst.
A successful SMART goals framework includes setting goals that are reasonable, realistic, and resourced well before any work begins.
Examples of SMART goals that are relevant and realistic
- Create and test two versions of an email before the next blast.
- Get outside for at least 15 minutes every day during remote work weeks.
- Increase 401K contribution by X% every time I receive a raise.
Time-bound (or Timely)
Deadlines give our objectives momentum. Without appropriate pressure to deliver within a set time-frame, many goals can roll on indefinitely (or worse, cease process altogether).
Organizations that use the SMART goals framework eliminate this risk by asking how much time a given goal will take to accomplish. Whatever time-frame they determine becomes part of the goal.
Examples of SMART goals that are time-bound
- Finish competitive analysis before new product launch on September 1.
- Write 3 long-form SEO posts by the end of the quarter.
- Interview all shortlisted candidates before the end of the month.
History of SMART Goals
There’s some degree of debate around the origin of SMART goals. Many people credit Peter Drucker’s management by objectives theory with spearheading the framework in 1954, but the first known use of the term SMART didn’t happen until nearly 30 years later.
Published in 1981, George T. Doran’s article in Management Review drew on philosopher John Locke’s theory of goal setting to explain the SMART goals framework—and he built a compelling case for treating goals differently (i.e. explicitly) to help propel an organization forward.
Today the most forward-thinking organizations adopt the SMART goals framework to define their objectives, align their actions, and assess their results.
Using SMART Goals to Manage Your Career
Leveraging SMART goals at work is an effective way to manage one’s output, but it’s also a useful tool for managing one’s career.
In many professions, such as nursing for example, it is especially beneficial to set SMART goals. By systematically identifying their long and short-term objectives, nurses who use SMART goals can monitor their professional progress to proactively guide their careers.
How to set SMART goals for better meetings
The Vital framework for fewer, shorter, better meetings suggests that every meeting should have a purpose. A good way to think about the purpose of a meeting is to consider it a SMART goal.
Watch this video to learn how.
Common questions about SMART Goals
- What are SMART goals? SMART goals are realistic, fully-scoped goals with clear measures and an expected completion date.
- What does SMART goals stand for? SMART goals stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound.
- What are the 5 SMART goals? SMART goals possess five characteristics: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound.
- What are examples of SMART goals? Put an extra $500 towards a student loan with the highest interest rate to pay it off in 9 months.
- How do you write a SMART goal? Start by naming your specific goal. Then break down what you need to do to achieve it. Along the way, assess whether the goal is something you can actually achieve and make adjustments where necessary. Lastly, give your goal a due date based on how much time it will take.
- What is the meaning of SMART goals? SMART goals stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound.
- What are SMART goals examples for fitness? Run three miles after work four times per week.
- What are SMART goals examples for weight loss? Reduce calorie intake by 20 percent for the next three months.
- What are SMART goals examples for health? Drink at least 10 glasses of water every day during the summer.
- What are examples of bad SMART goals? A bad SMART goal is any goal that isn’t specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound. Also known as “a goal.”
- How do you know what is realistic? Context (such as your available resources) and benchmarks (how long similar goals take on average).
- How do you set a measurable goal? Ask what needs to happen to satisfy the result you’re after.
- Are all goals measurable? All SMART goals are measurable, whether the measure is a binary (yes/no) or explicitly quantitative. If you can’t measure it, get more specific about the goal.