Goal planning sounds easy – you decide you want to do something and you go do it, right?  While that’s the basic concept, many people fall into the trap of making their goals overly vague.  If you find that you are struggling with goal management on your team it may be due to a failure to clearly define each objective such that both you and your team member have an identical understanding of the target.  One way to evaluate whether a goal is well defined is to use the SMART acronym. A SMART goal has the following characteristics:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable/Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Timely

Let’s go through each attribute and see some examples of how you can use this in practice.


A specific goal is one that is clearly defined. If you have an employee who has been slacking off in submitting their time sheets, you could set a goal that says “be more prompt in submitting your timesheets.” However that would not meet the criteria. Instead you could say “submit all timesheets by Friday at 4PM over the next 12 weeks”. The second phrasing clearly articulates exactly what you want the individual to do in order to be successful.

Larger goals should also be specific in nature. For example if your sales target is to grow new sales revenue by 20% over the year, rather than saying “everyone should sell more”, you would want to attach some metrics to the goal. This can involve some complex calculations, but it ultimately results in a goal that your team members understand clearly and can work towards on a daily basis. So to grow sales by 20%, you might have to analyze what your close rate is currently and then set a number of meetings or sales presentations per month that would increase your total number of sales by 20%.


A measurable goal is one that has a defined output that you can count. Both of the goals in the example above are measurable. You can count how many times your employee turns in his time card on-time and you can count how many meetings per month each individual schedules. This allows both you and your team member to clearly understand what is being expected of them.

Sometimes you will need a tool in order to measure the output of a goal. For example if you are a manager in a human resources department, you may have goals that relate to employee satisfaction or positive feelings about job performance. To capture the data on whether or not this goal has been achieved, you will need to send out a survey. When you are setting goals that require feedback from employees or customers, you should always survey them twice.

First you will need a baseline to find out how they respond to the situation prior to your enacting any change. Then you can set a goal for your team to change a process or implement a new program, let it run for a period of time and then survey your customers again. If you don’t measure the baseline status before you implement the change, you will not be able to see whether you have achieved your goal or not.


Almost everyone is familiar with the scenario of a manager entering the conference room and announcing a goal for the team that is completely impossible to achieve. There is nothing more likely to reduce morale or frustrate your team than to put out a goal that can’t be reached. While you should challenge your team, the challenge should be based in reality, not fiction. Using the example of the sales goal above, it would be possible for a manager to decide that his team should not just achieve the goal but vastly overshoot it.

While the theory of over achieving can be a positive one, if it puts the goal out of reach without straining the capacity of the team beyond a reasonable level, it’s a bad idea. The mark of a good manager is one who is aware of what’s on the plate of each team member, and who can calculate a stretch goal vs. an impossible goal. In fact it can be healthy to set two levels for larger goals. Level 1 is the goal itself, and level 2 is a stretch goal.

The stretch goal represents a scenario where you (and upper management) will not just be satisfied, but will feel like your team gave a little bit extra. Ideally you will have some leeway to reward your team for these types of achievements. Whether it’s giving them a half day off, an unexpected bonus (a gift card, for example), or some sort of recognition within the organization, there should always be a tangible benefit to going above and beyond what was asked.


Don’t create goals just for the sake of having a goal. If your team feels that you are creating work just for the sake of having something to do, they will rapidly lose respect for you. Similarly you should avoid creating artificial deadlines. It is better to set the correct deadline and follow through with consequences if a team member fails to meet the timeline you put forth than to create a situation where you continuously extend the finish line.

Both of the sample goals above meet the relevant test. Time sheets are a necessary administrative process and if you permit your employees to turn them in late, you are inconveniencing another department. By doing so you are creating tension and bad feelings between your department and human resources. So this goal is relevant because it maintains a positive relationship between your team and another internal department.

The second goal is relevant because it ties directly back to a larger goal of the organization. This helps to build alignment which is where everyone in the organization is working towards the same destination, and is therefore willing to help and support one another.


A timely goal is one with a clearly defined end date, which is a key component of effective time management. By agreeing at the outset over what span of time a goal will be completed, both you and your team members will be able to appropriately plan for its completion.

When you are considering the timeframe of a specific goal, it’s important not to be arbitrary about it. Ideally you should have a rough estimate of how long something takes to complete, but if it is a long term process which involves variables out of your direct control, you will still need to apply time boundaries. These can come in the form of progress check points on a scheduled basis (weekly or monthly). You can also apply time limits to pieces and parts of the goal, but leave the more variable areas open and agree to narrow down the timeframe when you have more information.

If you are looking for a quick template for SMART goal planning, check out the free toolkit offer from my earlier post.


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