There's almost nothing more gratifying than the feeling you get when you accomplish a goal.
Whether you're pressing "Publish" on a blog post or collecting initial analytics on a campaign months in the making, it's undeniably satisfying to know you've successfully finished a task.
When you're not chasing a clear goal, though, work can feel like a never-ending grind. Without goals, you're setting yourself up to feel like the work you're doing isn't enough — or, worse, you position yourself to do work that doesn't actually impact your company's bottom line.
Making your goals SMART is an effective method for clarifying your motivations, setting a clear direction for you and your team members, and ensuring you're able to celebrate the wins when they come along.
To help you write SMART goals, we've created a free template with all the tools needed to get you started. But first — what exactly is a SMART goal, and how does it differ from a regular goal?
What is a SMART goal?
The letters of SMART stand for:
The SMART acronym is a framework that will enable you to write goals that drive greater impact. Write goals with each of these aspects in mind, and you'll be able to quantify how far you've come and how far you have left to go against your goal.
When you reach the milestone you articulated in your SMART goal, you'll be able to celebrate knowing that you achieved something tangible and impactful.
To make the process of setting a SMART goal simple, we've created a free, downloadable SMART goal setting template. I'll walk through the template as we discuss each aspect of a SMART goal, below.
I'd suggest downloading the template yourself to follow along throughout the rest of this blog post. Next, let's dive into the importance of each aspect of the SMART acronym.
What does each aspect of the SMART acronym actually mean?
While we run through the definition behind each aspect of the SMART framework, we'll apply the framework to a real-world example as we go. You can download the template to follow along (input your starting goal in cell F8) or simply write your starting goal on a piece of paper.
Let's start with a basic, non-SMART goal as our example — "I want to get more fit."
Goal setting is often associated with striving toward our highest aspirations — and actually reaching those aspirations can seem daunting. Specificity helps us determine the path between where we are, and where we want to be.
"Getting more fit" is ambiguous. There are innumerable ways to get more fit, and everyone has their own definition of fitness — for instance, are you looking to lose weight? Perform more push-ups? Cut a minute off your mile time?
When a goal isn't specific, there is no way to tell whether the actions you're taking are going to help you achieve that goal. If your specific fitness goal is actually to increase the number of push-ups you can do at one time, following a running plan isn't going to be very helpful in getting you to your true goal.
A specific goal is one that makes your next steps clear — or, at the very least, narrows down the potential next steps you might take.
To specify what we mean by "I want to get more fit,'' I'll alter our example goal to read, "I want to be able to do more push-ups."
If you're following along in the template, make your goal more specific and type it into the cell under Step 1.
When a goal is measurable, you can easily track your progress. Typically, this means that a number will be attached to your goal.
A numerical goal is valuable for many reasons. In addition to giving you something to strive toward, you'll be able to celebrate a victory when you reach the final benchmark.
If you say that you just want to do more push-ups", for instance, does that mean that you want to be able to complete just one more push-up per session, or that you want to double the number of push-ups you can do overall? One goal will take a lot more time and dedication to achieve than the other.
Let's say I can do ten push-ups in a row right now. To allow us to measure our progress against our final goal and know when we've reached a milestone, we'll edit our push-ups goal to read, "I want to be able to do 25 push-ups in a row."
I've set some pretty lofty goals before — and if you're reading this, you're probably a self-motivated person, too.
Big aspirations are admirable, but it's important to balance long-term goals with more achievable, short-term goals.
Setting attainable goals is all about looking at what you've done so far and adjusting your goals to be realistic relative to those benchmarks.
To consider the point in more concrete terms, think about business growth rates — if your company has been selling 2% more product each month for the past 12 months, aiming to sell 15% more product next month would be an unrealistic goal. Keep in mind that 2% growth is the status quo — so a good stretch goal might be selling 3 or 4% more product next month. Selling 4% more product would still be doubling your month-over-month growth.
Attainable goals are useful because they help you maintain momentum. It can be hugely discouraging to miss huge targets, whereas consistently making small gains will encourage you to continue delivering wins.
Each month, you'll be aiming for the familiar satisfaction of hitting your target rather than dreading another seemingly major miss.
For instance, to make our example goal a bit more attainable, I'll move the target from 25 push-ups to 20 push-ups. There's still a significant amount of work required to get to where I want to be, but I'll be able to celebrate a huge achievement — doubling the amount of push-ups I can do — and use that momentum and celebration to drive me to set a goal of doing 25 push-ups soon after I achieve my goal of 20.
Consider what you've done in the past in relation to the goal you're in the process of setting, and adjust it accordingly.
Relevant goals are ones that will help you move in the direction you truly desire. You can allocate your time to an infinite amount of activities, but which activities will actually push you closest to your ultimate goals?
It's a common trap to feel like we're being productive when we're busy, even if our action isn't creating a meaningful impact.
In the beginning, our example goal was to "get more fit." To make sure our goal is relevant, we need to ask ourselves whether following through on this goal will really help us get to where we want to be.
In the case of our push-up goal, the answer is yes. Push-ups engage several muscle groups, including your back, arms, shoulders, and core, and doing a significant number consecutively can definitely elevate your heart rate. Therefore, executing on this goal will improve my muscular strength and perhaps even my cardiovascular strength, both of which are key elements to overall fitness.
Ask yourself whether the goal you've set is going to create real impact on your overarching targets, and adapt it or identify a way to track impact if the answer is currently no.
I'll adjust our example goal to include its overarching purpose: "I want to be able to do 20 push-ups in a row to improve my overall muscular fitness."
The final letter of the SMART acronym stands for time-bound. You should always aim to accomplish your goal within a specific time period. Adding in a time frame will not only motivate you to take steps every day toward your goal, but also allow you to track how much progress you've made against your goal versus the time that's passed.
If I’m aiming to increase the number of push-ups I can do by ten in two months, I'm able to set a midpoint milestone of adding five push-ups in the first month. If a month passes and I've only increased the number by three, I'll know I need to ramp up my efforts, re-evaluate my strategy for increasing my push-up strength, or adjust the time frame I initially chose.
Additionally, a time frame can help you chart your progress. I'll make our example goal time-bound by saying, "I want to be able to do 20 consecutive push-ups two months from today to improve my overall muscular fitness." Now, I have a goal that clarifies the path to where I want to be.
In the final tab of the SMART goals template, you'll be able to document the roadblocks to achieving your goal that you anticipate, and make an action plan for overcoming those roadblocks to set you off on the right foot.
Before I made my goal SMART, it would've been easy for me to make excuses. It wasn't clear how I'd measure whether I'd gotten fitter, or when I was going to check-in with myself to see whether I had.
How To Make a SMART Goal
Use specific wording.
Include measurable goals.
Aim for realistically attainable goals.
Pick relevant goals that relate to your business.
Make goals time-bound by including a timeframe and deadline information.
1. Use specific wording.
When writing SMART goals, keep in mind that they are "specific" in that there's a hard and fast destination the employee is trying to reach. "Get better at my job," isn't a SMART goal because it isn't specific. Instead, ask yourself: What are you getting better at? How much better do you want to get?
If you're a marketing professional, your job probably revolves around key performance indicators or KPIs. Therefore, you might choose a particular KPI or metric that you want to improve on — like visitors, leads, or customers. You should also identify the team members working toward this goal, the resources they have, and their plan of action.
In practice, a specific SMART goal might say, "Clifford and Braden will increase the blog's traffic from email ..." You know exactly who's involved and what you're trying to improve on.
Common SMART Goal Mistake: Vagueness
While you may need to keep some goals more open-ended, you should avoid vagueness that could confuse your team later on. For example, instead of saying, "Clifford will boost email marketing experiences," say "Clifford will boost email marketing click rates by 10%."
2. Include measurable goals.
SMART goals should be "measurable" in that you can track and quantify the goal's progress. "Increase the blog's traffic from email," by itself, isn't a SMART goal because you can't measure the increase. Instead, ask yourself: How much email marketing traffic should you strive for?
If you want to gauge your team's progress, you need to quantify your goals, like achieving an X-percentage increase in visitors, leads, or customers.
Let's build on the SMART goal we started three paragraphs above. Now, our measurable SMART goal might say, "Clifford and Braden will increase the blog's traffic from email by 25% more sessions per month ... " You know what you're increasing, and by how much.
Common SMART Goal Mistake: No KPIs
This is in the same light of avoiding vagueness. While you might need qualitative or open-ended evidence to prove your success, you should still come up with a quantifiable KPI. For example, instead of saying, "Customer service will improve customer happiness," say, "We want the average call satisfaction score from customers to be a seven out of ten or higher."
3. Aim for realistically attainable goals.
An "attainable" SMART goal considers the employee's ability to achieve it. Make sure that X-percentage increase is rooted in reality. If your blog traffic increased by 5% last month, try to increase it by 8-10% this month, rather than a lofty 25%.
It's crucial to base your goals on your own analytics, not industry benchmarks, or else you might bite off more than you can chew. So, let's add some "attainability" to the SMART goal we created earlier in this blog post: "Clifford and Braden will increase the blog's traffic from email by 8-10% more sessions per month ... " This way, you're not setting yourself up to fail.
Common SMART Goal Mistake: Unattainable Goals
Yes. You should always aim to improve. But reaching for completely unattainable goals may knock you off course and make it harder to track progress. Rather than saying, "We want to make 10,000% of what we made in 2021," consider something more attainable, like, "We want to increase sales by 150% this year," or "We have a quarterly goal to reach a 20% year-over-year sales increase."
4. Pick relevant goals that relate to your business.
SMART goals that are "relevant" relate to your company's overall business goals and account for current trends in your industry. For instance, will growing your traffic from email lead to more revenue? And, is it actually possible for you to significantly boost your blog's email traffic given your current email marketing campaigns?
If you're aware of these factors, you’re more likely to set goals that benefit your company — not just you or your department.
So, what does that do to our SMART goal? It might encourage you to adjust the metric you're using to track the goal's progress. For example, maybe your business has historically relied on organic traffic for generating leads and revenue, and research suggests you can generate more qualified leads this way.
Our SMART goal might instead say, "Clifford and Braden will increase the blog's organic traffic by 8-10% more sessions per month." This way, your traffic increase is aligned with the business's revenue stream.
Common SMART Goal Mistake: Losing Sight of the Company
When your company is doing well, it can be easy to say you want to pivot or grow in another direction. While companies can successfully do this, you don't want your team to lose sight of how the core of your business works.
Rather than saying, "We want to start a new B2B business on top of our B2C business," say something like, "We want to continue increasing B2C sales while researching the impact our products could have on the B2B space in the next year."
5. Make goals time-bound by including a timeframe and deadline information.
A "time-bound" SMART goal keeps you on schedule. Improving on a goal is great, but not if it takes too long. Attaching deadlines to your goals puts a healthy dose of pressure on your team to accomplish them. This helps you make consistent and significant progress in the long term.
For example, which would you prefer: increasing organic traffic by 5% every month, leading to a 30-35% increase in half a year? Or trying to increase traffic by 15% with no deadline and achieving that goal in the same timeframe? If you picked the former, you're right.
So, what does our SMART goal look like once we bound it to a timeframe? "Over the next three months, Clifford and Braden will work to increase the blog's organic traffic by 8-10%, reaching a total of 50,000 organic sessions by the end of August.”
Common SMART Goal Mistake: No Time Frame
Having no timeframe or a really broad span of time noted in your goal will cause the effort to get reprioritized or make it hard for you to see if your team is on track. Rather than saying. "This year, we want to launch a major campaign," say, "In quarter one, we will focus on campaign production in order to launch the campaign in quarter two."
With my new SMART goal, I have a clear target to aim for and a metric for success. I can quickly evaluate whether I'm on pace with achieving my goal or behind, and I can celebrate the achievement when it does come because it's a realistic metric that's relevant to my ultimate goal.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in September 2019 and has been updated for comprehension.
Originally published Sep 11, 2019 7:00:00 AM, updated January 25 2022