Goal-setting is essential for growth. It’s not enough to passively want to get better at something; you need to set up clear milestones on your path to bigger and better things. But if you’re not used to setting these goals for yourself, you might be struggling to make them relevant. That’s where SMART goals come in.
SMART is an acronym, with each letter standing for a particular characteristic that makes for better goals. Find out what each letter stands for, how you can create your own SMART goals, and get a few examples you can use as a reference when building them.
A quick definition of SMART goals
SMART goals are easy to create, no matter your role, and both success and failure can be clearly determined. That’s because each letter in “SMART” stands for one aspect of every excellent goal:
S for Specific
Keep your goal too general, and it’ll be tough to know when you’ve succeeded or even how to succeed. You’ll also struggle to come up with initiatives that get you closer to that success. What is the specific thing you’re trying to achieve?
“Bring in more revenue” isn’t a very specific goal. “Increase MRR.” is.
M for Measurable
A good goal should have some kind of unit of measurement so that you know just how successful you were, or by how much you fell short. Defining a goal this way can seem intimidating at first. How do you pick the right metric and the right target? That comes with experience, knowing your capabilities, and being willing to push your limits.
“Increase MRR” is specific, but not measurable. “Increase MRR by 20%” is measurable.
A for Achievable
There’s a delicate balance to be struck between setting the bar so high that you can’t reach it and so low that your goal isn’t worth pursuing. At Unito, we differentiate between two kinds of targets when we build OKRs, but it can apply to SMART goals too. We set “target” goals, meaning achieving them is completely realistic. We also use “moon” goals, meaning we’re being overly ambitious on purpose. If we can achieve 75% of a moon goal, we’ll be happy.
Is “increase MRR by 20%” achievable? That depends entirely on your situation. If you’re an early-stage startup with nowhere to go but up, this can be entirely achievable. For a larger, established corporation in an incredibly competitive market, it might be less so.
R for Relevant
Your goal can be absolutely measurable, specific, and within your capabilities, but is it relevant to the organization? Or if you’re setting personal goals, how does it relate to your long-term ambitions?
Say “Increase MRR by 20%” is specific, measurable, and achievable for your business. How do you make sure it’s relevant? You ask stakeholders, you pay attention to what other teams are working on, and you cross-reference the goal with the business’s overall goals. If you’re trying to go after larger accounts, you might turn this SMART goal into “Increase MRR from large accounts by 20%.”
T for Time-bound
Don’t leave goals open-ended. If your goal doesn’t have a deadline, there’s no pressure to actually work towards it. That pressure is a good thing. Not only does it help you keep working on your goal, but it also helps you stay aligned with other teams. Don’t hesitate to look at the deadlines of your collaborators for inspiration here.
For the above MRR goal, it makes sense to tie it to cycles that sales and other revenue teams use. That can mean “increase MRR from large accounts by 20% before the end of the month” or “—before the end of the fiscal year.”
When you’re crafting SMART goals, just remember these five elements: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Bringing them all together into a goal that’s relevant for you can take time: practice makes perfect.
How to create SMART goals
Now you know the qualities of a SMART goal, but how do you go about creating them? And how can you ensure that they fit the SMART framework?
Follow this process.
Ask yourself what you want to accomplish
Before you worry about boosting your goal’s IQ, start big. It’s easier to start general and get specific than the other way around. Why are you setting this goal? Personal development? An objective set by your manager? Start there, and then work your way down to something more defined.
Find a unit of measurement that works.
If you’re not particularly data-minded, you might need some help from a coworker on this one. That said, there’s a metric for every kind of goal. Say you’re a developer who wants to get better at bug-fixing. Your metric could be the average time it takes to fix a bug. It could be the number of bugs you fix. It could be the quality of the fix, as determined by your peers. It could be your ability to identify bugs in the first place. There’s really no shortage of metrics by which you can measure your success.
Talk with your manager (or a stakeholder) about relevance
Sometimes, it’s not entirely clear how your personal goals contribute to the organization as a whole. When building your SMART goals, sit down with your manager and get their input. Otherwise, you can ask a stakeholder on a specific project what they think about your goal.
Try to match your time frame with the organization’s milestones
You’ll be more motivated to achieve your goals if it feels like you’re working as part of a team. For instance, if you work with a product team that uses regular sprints to get work done, set smaller goals that fit within that time frame. At Unito, we have each employee set OKRs — goals they want to hit — that match with the company’s financial quarters.
Following the SMART acronym gets you halfway to building strong goals that help you grow, but these steps can get you the rest of the way there.
Now, how about some examples of common SMART goals?
4 SMART goal examples
Here are a few SMART goals you can use as a reference when building your own.
A SMART goal example for team leads
I will set up daily stand-up meetings to help my team achieve 100% task completion by the end of the next sprint.
This SMART goal is specific (help a team close more tasks), measurable (100% completion), and time-bound (end of the next sprint). It’s also relevant for team leads trying to improve their team’s performance, and even has a direct initiative built right into it.
A SMART goal for personal development
I will improve my SEO knowledge by reading three books on marketing by the end of the next financial quarter.
This goal hits all aspects of the SMART acronym. It’s definitely specific (improve SEO knowledge), measurable (three books), and achievable. This goal is relevant for someone looking to get promoted to a more senior marketing role or someone who’s just started their marketing career. It’s also time-bound (end of the next financial quarter).
A SMART goal example for blog writers
I will decrease the amount of time needed to edit my blog posts by half by the end of the month.
This SMART goal for content creation is specific (make edits faster), measurable (decrease by half), achievable (if a bit ambitious), and time-bound (this month). This one is a bit more open-ended, in that there are multiple things a writer can do to make their blog posts easier to edit. Just because a SMART goal needs to be specific doesn’t mean it has only one solution.
An example for customer support agents
I will increase the number of tickets answered in a day by 20% before the end of the quarter.
This SMART goal is specific (resolving more tickets), measurable (20%), and time-bound (before the end of the quarter). Is it achievable? That depends entirely on the person setting it, their department’s goals, and the situation of the business as a whole. Many customer service metrics are ultimately out of an individual agent’s hands, so it’s important to find the things you can actually control and focus on improving them.
A SMART goal for a software developer
I will build a dedicated product ticket triage system to improve ticket handling speed by 50% before the end of the year.
This goal is a bit more specific than others, in that it includes a direct initiative. If you notice that your team’s workflows aren’t as efficient as they could be, there’s nothing stopping you from turning the solution into a SMART goal. This one is specific (set up a triage system), measurable (improve handling speed by 50%), and time-bound (end of the year). It’s incredibly relevant since it’s aimed at improving collaboration between software teams and other teams. Is it achievable? Depends on your workload.
Work SMARTer, not harder
Growth is about more than just pushing harder than everyone else. By setting clear, effective goals, you can look back and see how far you’ve come. With SMART goals, you’ll know exactly what you need to do, how well you’re doing it, and how you can do better.