March 9, 2021

SMART Goals: Everything You Need to Know

someone tracking their smart goals instead of OKRs

Goal setting, at both the personal and organizational level, is a critical aspect of workforce engagement and business performance that keeps a company focused and moving forward. And there are a number of formats and solutions your business might utilize to set objectives and make plans for the future. The SMART method is a tool designed to give you a detailed road map to getting your employees, departments, and organization as a whole where you want to go. 

In this article, we’re going to take a closer look at SMART goals to help you figure out which goal setting method is best for your business. 

What are SMART goals

SMART is one of the more recent goal-setting methods to enter the playing field. It was originally published in 1981 by George T. Doran, former Director of Corporate Planning for the Washington Water Power Company. Doran included the acronym in a publication titled “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. Way to Write Management’s Goals and Objectives,” stating that he wanted to create a comprehensive but easy-to-use technique for setting objectives.

The SMART goal method is designed to give you as clear a picture as possible between your current position and your ultimate intention. It also helps you stay realistic and practical in your planning. 

Letters in the SMART acronym stands for:

S – Specific

M – Measurable

A – Achievable

R – Relevant

T – Time-based

Depending on your needs and resources, you can change any of the elements in this acronym to create a better fit. For example, Relevant can be changed to Reasonable, Realistic, Results-based, or Resourced. Some organizations who use the SMART method also include Evaluated and Reviewed to illustrate the importance of success assessment at the end of a given project (SMARTER.) Doran also noted in his paper that not every project will utilize all elements of the acronym. 

How to write SMART goals and objectives

Once you have an objective in mind, for yourself, your team, or your organization, you should use the SMART acronym to help you answer questions about the task ahead. While doing this can feel like a lot of work, you should look at it as an opportunity to perfect your strategy and plot the most refined course to your objective. 

SMART goal format

Start by stating your initial goal. In broadest terms, what do you hope to accomplish?

Next, answer the following questions for each element:

Specific – In narrow terms, what is your ultimate objective? Which departments or personnel need to be involved in this process? Why is this an important goal? When does this need to happen?

Measurable – What measurements can you take to understand whether you’ve reached your goal? What metrics are available to you?

Achievable – Do you have the resources or skills necessary to reach this objective? If not, can you acquire them? Will the accomplishment of this goal produce a worthwhile ROI, financially or otherwise?

Relevant – Does this goal align with the greater goals of the company, department, team, or individual? Is this an important initiative to undertake?

Time-bound – What is the deadline for this project? Is it achievable within that time constraint?

Once you’ve answered these questions to your satisfaction, re-write your goal to reflect the insight you have gained through using the SMART acronym.

SMART goal metric examples

Depending on the nature of your objective, there are a number of ways to measure progress and successful completion. Here are a few metrics you can use. 

Milestones – If your work is being done over the long term, set smaller objectives within the bigger project to help you keep track of progress.

Quantitative data points – Define specific numeric values to ideal outcomes. This can be financial gain, engagement percentages, performance rates, etc.

Qualitative data points – Measure goals with less tangible results by tracking things like personal performance, cultural changes, and employee and customer satisfaction.

SMART goals examples

Here are three examples of SMART goals.


S – I want to build better relationships with my coworkers through workplace cooperation and social engagement both in and out of the office.

R – Better workplace relationships are key to a successful professional life, and a fulfilling personal experience.

T – I would like to host a 4th of July picnic for my coworkers, making my timeline approximately 2 months.


S – The Human Resources department wants to internally promote a new HR Director within the next two years.

M – HR specialists applying for the position will need to take upskilling courses X, Y, and Z in order to qualify for the position. This should be done within the next year.

A – We have the learning resources necessary to effectively upskill internal employees to prepare them for a directorial position. 

R – Our current HR Director is retiring 2 years from now and we prefer to promote internally.

T – Internal applicants should be upskilled by 18 months from now to prepare for training and responsibility assumption in 24.


S – Improve DEI and build a company culture of equity and inclusivity.

M – Reduce turnover for underrepresented employee groups, promote equitably, and achieve better cross-level representation.

A – We are working with advocacy groups and equitable hiring resources to change company policy and achieve our goal.

R – The events of the past year have highlighted inequity in workforce representation and it is critical for us as an organization to do what we can to change these statistics.

T – Initially we will establish a specific DEI committee within one year.  

OKR vs. SMART goals

OKRs and SMART goals both have similar driving philosophies. Each is oriented towards specificity and precision, and works to create a structured path towards an objective. But how either method is applied and used can differ greatly, and one might provide a better advantage depending on the goal you’re setting.

Difference between SMART goals and OKRs

OKRs are often bigger picture, and define long-term objectives which are meant to be inspirational, rather than define a goal which is numerically valued. OKR objectives are often general and “represent a destination” for a team, organization, or individual. This objective is then measured with Key Results, quantitative and qualitative metrics that demonstrate your progress towards the goal.

SMART goals, as we have discussed, are specific, and often define the numeric terms of success within the goal itself. They are a “set of criteria for creating goals” and help to define as narrowly as possible the what, why, and how of your objectives. SMART goals can provide a strategic advantage in setting short-term goals, and can even be used to create key results in an OKR. 

Pros and cons of OKRs vs. SMART goals

Here are some pros and cons of OKR goals.

Pro – By design, OKRs are aspirational and allow you to dream big and design phenomenal objectives for yourself and your organization.

Con – OKRs by themselves can be unfocused and disorganized.

Pro – OKRs are routinely evaluated and therefore easy to keep track of. Adjustments can be made quickly if a review reveals any flaws or failures. 

Here are some pros and cons of SMART goals. 

Pro – SMART goals are precise, pointed, and define each individual step you need to take towards a goal. 

Con – The specificity of SMART goal setting can cause users to lose sight of the bigger picture, and place the emphasis on individual and short-term achievement rather than holistic and long-term success.

Pro – SMART goals can be implemented to further the success of other goal-setting methods, as they are great for breaking down large objectives into smaller and more achievable tasks. 

SMART goals: final thoughts

Whatever the needs of your organization, there is a goal-setting method that can help you reach your objectives. The SMART method is a comprehensive technique which can be leveraged on its own, or in tandem with other methods, such as OKRs.

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