Be even smarter with your SMART goal setting

Be even smarter with your SMART goal setting

Be even smarter with your SMART goal setting

Leadership is very much about setting goals, the direction your team is going in and pace of change that is needed to succeed. The need to set clear goals, that are understood by your team, is an imperative. Although you may be already familiar with using the SMART acronym when setting goals, this blog explores how to set even smarter goals that take into account team members’ motivations.  

Unclear goals lead to wasted effort, poor achievement and disappointment when things don’t work out as expected. In many cases, this can lead to conflict between managers and their team members and breakdown in relationships across teams within organisations.

How to set even smarter SMART goals

So getting goal setting right is essential. Here is the version of SMART goal setting that we recommend:
Specific. Be as specific as you can. Don’t make the mistake of assuming people know what you mean. Take time to be clear on what is to be achieved. Being specific means including a number (e.g. an absolute number or a percentage) to be achieved and a date for when the number is to be achieved. Here are two examples:

  • To achieve customer satisfaction rate of 98% by 30 September 2024.
  • To produce 5000 widgets per month by 30 June 2024.

These examples leave no doubt as to what is to be achieved and by when. When goal setting, it is very important to have this element of the goal written down (and shared).
Motivation. In other versions of SMART, the M is usually described and measurable. However, in our recommended version we prefer to use Motivation. This is because we believe that leadership needs to take into consideration why team members should be interested in achieving the goal. Using M as understanding motivation rather than stating how progress on the task will be measured (which we cover later in this blog),is goal setting using the language of leadership. Using M as measurable has, we believe, more of a manager focus. Using M as motivation, demonstrates more of a leadership, people-focused approach to goal setting. 

The reason for achieving the goal needs to be discussed. The question to ask is ‘what will achieving the goal give the team member?’. Some examples may be:

  • Increased job satisfaction.
  • A sense of achievement.
  • Career progression.
  • More product knowledge.

Although discussed and agreed, it is not necessary to have this element of the goal setting included in the goal statement. However, we recommend that a note of your team member’s motivation is made so you can refer to this when providing feedback later.

Attainable. Although it’s important to set a challenging goal, it’s very important not to make the goal so challenging that it becomes unattainable. To set people up to fail is unfair and it becomes de-motivational. However, if the goal is not challenging enough, your team member may become bored and/or feel that achieving the goal is not worthwhile.
To make a goal attainable, the team member’s levels of competence (i.e. knowledge and skills) and levels of commitment (motivation and/or confidence) need to be determined. This is best undertaken by conversation, asking the right, often open, questions. Here are some examples:

  • What will achieving the goal give you?
  • How do you feel about undertaking this task?
  • Why is achieving this objective important for you, our team and our business?

Relevant. Goals, at all levels within an organisation, need to be aligned with the strategic aims and objectives of the business. We feel it is important that team members, at whichever level they operate, need to have line of sight about what they are being asked to achieve and how their contribution impacts organisational performance. This increases levels of engagement and therefore improves the chances of success as people want to do meaningful, worthwhile work
Trackable. This is where the measurement aspect of goal setting takes place. When setting goals, it’s important to state when and how the goal will be tracked and measured. We recommend that 1:1 meetings are used alongside any reporting that takes place. Tracking progress is very much about monitoring performance and providing encouragement, coaching and feedback as required.
It is helpful to have this element of the goal written into the goal statement to ensure both parties are fully aware of when and how progress will be tracked. This helps accountability to be clear for everyone. Here are some examples building on the previous examples used earlier in this blog:

  • To achieve customer satisfaction rate of 98% by 30 September 2024. This will be tracked and monitored via weekly reporting and quarterly review meetings.
  • To produce 5000 widgets per month by 30 June 2024. This will be reviewed at daily OTIF (on time and in full) production schedule meetings and weekly reviews.


Goals need to be set to ensure that team members’ efforts and energy are focused in the right direction. But the goals must be clearly understood and not just given out in the hope that everyone understands what is to be done. We make a point of the importance of this during our leadership behaviours training and our managing performance training in the following way:

  • We provide each course participant with a blank sheet of paper and a pen. Wherever possible, we make sure that everyone has the same equipment.
  • We then ask each participant to draw 10 circles, deliberately ignoring any requests from the group for clarification.
  • We then ask each participant to share what they had drawn, asking them to compare and contrast the size, patterns and format of the circles they have each drawn.
  • We then discuss the diversity of thinking that exists amongst people in terms of how they interpret information and, most importantly, discuss how this relates to poor goal setting and the risks this provides to the quality of outcomes produced.

This exercise clearly illustrates the importance of setting clear goals and highlights the importance of setting SMART criteria.

When time is precious, and competing priorities exist, spending time setting goals and clarifying understanding can often be seen as unimportant. However, this is a false economy in the long run. Set SMART goals, get them written down and book times for reviews to take place (way before annual performance review meetings).  

Paul Beesley
Director & senior consultant, Beyond Theory

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