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Setting Effective SMART Goals

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Setting goals gives us purpose and direction for our efforts. Whether on an individual or team level, goal setting is the first step in the path towards achievement.

But it should be just that - a path. Simply conceptualizing an aspiration is not enough. How will you get there? What steps will you take to walk the path and arrive at the objective?

Here is where SMART goals are invaluable. SMART is an acronym for a system of defining and achieving your aspirations. It is a trusted framework for accomplishing any goal - from small projects to organizational initiatives. Learn about setting effective SMART goals for yourself and your team.


S is for Specific

A vague goal is unlikely to be accomplished, even if the intention is stellar. Specificity, on the other hand, provides clarity. A specific goal lays the groundwork for relevant action items and milestones. Consider the differences between these vague and specific goals:

  • Vague goal - Increase sales in Q2.

  • Specific goal - Increase sales in Q2 by 10% by reaching out to a new audience segment with sales calls, an email drip campaign and targeted ads.


Both of these examples share the same motivation. The second example, however, provides the structure for achieving the goal.

Here is a helpful checklist with “W questions” to ensure precision. Ask yourself:

  • Who - who will be involved and which roles will they play?

  • What - what tools, techniques or outside resources are needed?

  • Where - where will the work be accomplished? (This can be a physical or virtual location, and may not be applicable.)

  • Why - why is the goal important?

M is for Measurable


Measuring a goal is not a straightforward binary evaluation of whether the goal was met or not. Regularly evaluating progress increases the likelihood of long-term success. It also provides a tangible means to determine goal effectiveness in nuanced ways.


1. First, you will need to establish metrics. Consider which quantifiable measures you will use to judge performance.

Let’s use the specific goal example above about increasing sales in Q2. It would be difficult to measure success if the metric was to “elicit more responses from targeted ads.” Rather, use a quantifiable metric, such as “increasing the conversion rate from targeted ads by 40%.”


2. Second, have regular meetings with your working group. This creates the opportunity to discuss roadblocks, propose solutions, and assess overall project progress. Meetings can come in the form of regular status updates - such as on a weekly or monthly basis, depending on the nature of the project.

Typically, meetings regarding short-term and concrete tasks will occur more frequently. Conversely, big picture strategy sessions would happen occasionally - say every month or quarter.


A is for Achievable


Nothing demotivates like an unrealistic goal. Meet with your team to establish goals and discuss the “W questions.” If the goal is beyond the abilities of your team, even when factoring in that skill sets will expand during the project, then readjust the goal. Get them onboard in sharing your vision, but hear them out if they have concerns.

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On the other end of the spectrum, setting effective SMART goals means not choosing ones that are too easy for your group to meet. This does not produce the growth that benefits your team. Aiming too low can also lead to unnecessary apprehension with future complicated objectives. In essence, smart leaders will strike the right balance in setting goals that are challenging but attainable.


R is for Relevant

This may seem like a no-brainer, but team goals should align with larger organizational objectives. Double-check your goals, and if necessary, consider minor adjustments for improved synergy with company initiatives.

Using the specific goal example again, let’s say that the company has prioritized creating long-term customer relationships over single-time sales. In this case, less time and money may be put towards targeted ads and more resources toward sales calls and emails that are more personal and can facilitate customer loyalty.


T is for Timely


“Time and tide wait for no man,” the famous Chaucer quote goes. The inescapable reality of time can seem a crushing foe, but when it comes to setting goals, make it your friend.

Setting effective SMART goals means they will all be time-bound, including starting and ending dates. This creates an outline from which smaller assignments can be scheduled, and metrics to accurately measure success can be established. In other words, the time aspect of SMART goals underlies all the other parts.

Celebrate milestones that are passed. Push your team towards more demanding goals along the way. Sequencing smaller goals to escalate in difficulty can build the right momentum to meet your ultimate win.

Motivating Your Team Towards Goal-Oriented Success


A goal-setting exercise done right, which considers the big “W questions,” may reveal that your team is lacking certain competencies to deliver on the main objective.

Do they need training in Microsoft applications? Time management? Prioritization? Project management? Customer service? Communication skills?

You name it, Priority Management can provide the training to bridge the skills gap. Our instructive programs are entirely customized for your business needs. Our goal with every training is long-term positive behavioural change so your team becomes and remains more efficient and productive.

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