SMART GOALS: Planning for Success

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January 17, 2008

The first part of the year is often a time when organizations, departments, teams and individuals focus on the future and establish goals and accompanying plans that will create a road map for business and personal success. SMART goals will provide greater opportunities for accomplishment than those that are stated in a vague, general, or hopeful manner. The acronym SMART spells out criteria for goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-based.

Defining and Stating a SMART Goal:

A specific goal is stated in well-defined, specific terms using concrete action verbs (e.g. increase, institute, reduce) that focus on desired future results and leave no doubt as to what is to be achieved.

A measurable goal statement includes numeric and/or descriptive terms that will enable those involved to verify that defined results have been achieved.

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An achievable goal is formulated to be within reach of attainment, while taking into consideration the need for achievement to be a stretch. A “yes” to questions such as the following indicates that a goal is achievable. Do those involved have the necessary skills and abilities to accomplish the goal?  Is the goal within the organization’s, department’s, team’s, or and/or individual’s control and/or influence? Will the necessary tools or resources be available? Is the goal realistic, considering all other commitments and factors that can impact achievement? 

A relevant goal is meaningful and will make a difference if accomplished. Prior to establishing a goal, time should be spent in examining reasons why achievement is important. Consideration should be given to ensuring that the goal is in alignment with the individual’s key responsibilities as well as the values, mission, and vision of the organization and department or work unit involved.

A time-based goal provides a beginning and ending date for achievement.  Pertinent factors (e.g. delivery by others, coordination) should be taken into consideration in order to establish a reasonable time frame for completion. 

The following is an example of a SMART goal statement that takes into consideration the criteria described above: Reduce emergency response time from an annual average of 20 minutes to 17 minutes by December 31, 2008 (beginning date January 1, 2008). Contrast its specific nature with a non-SMART goal statement developed for the same purpose: Reduce emergency response time.

Planning to Achieve a Goal:

A written plan should be developed that further defines how the goal will be accomplished. It should include the person(s) with primary responsibility for implementation, required resources (including costs), and specific steps to accomplish desired results. The plan will be used to monitor progress at various points prior to completion and will assist in determining whether the goal is realistic or changes need to be made. A well-defined plan will also serve as a basis for communicating and/or coordinating progress toward achievement with others, thereby increasing opportunities for success.

Barbara Richman, SPHR, is a Senior Consultant with HR Mpact, a human resource consulting firm providing services that include training, HR administration, policies and procedures, HR audits, employee/labor relations, and communications. Training offered by HR Mpact includes: E-mail, Cell Phone, and Other Workplace Etiquette; Respect and Civility in the Workplace; Harassment-Free Workplace; Family and Medical Leave Act; Supervisory Training; and Discipline and Documentation. Her email address is [email protected] and telephone numbers are 901.685.9084.

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