SMART Goal examples: how to set yourself up for success

There’s an old expression (perhaps it’s a quote), ‘If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will do’. That’s why SMART Goals are so important, they create the clarity that will set you up for success.

In this article I will share SMART Goal examples with you. More importantly, I’ll share with you how to develop your own.

A quick note on the SMART acronym

‘SMART’ is universally recognized, but the words that underpin the acronym do vary. most particularly the ‘AR’.

  • A’ is for Achievable (or Attainable), or Ambitious? I prefer Ambitious. Don’t start by setting the bar low, be ambitious!
  • R’ is for Realistic, or Relevant? Relevant is most useful, it encourages you to think about the bigger picture.

SMART: Specific, Measurable, Ambitious, Relevant, Timely. It’s pretty intuitive, but here’s a more detailed breakdown of the SMART model if you’d like to explore the definition further.

The benefits of SMART Goals

SMART Goals have four main benefits:

  1. Clarity: SMART goals don’t just define the goal, they define “what success looks like” and start to clarify the tasks that are required as you move towards success.
  2. Focus: with the clarity comes focus, you’ll spend less time on unproductive side-roads, less time stopping and thinking about what to do, and more time making progress.
  3. Accountability: SMART Goals define exactly what is expected. This might seem scary (see below!), but it’s also an opportunity to demonstrate that you can deliver results.
  4. Alignment: to be successful you’ll have to work with your team, your colleagues and other stakeholders. One of the often-forgotten benefits of SMART Goals is the opportunity to create alignment as a foundation for success.

Here’s more from Inspire on the benefits of goal alignment.

SMART Goal examples

Let’s jump into some SMART Goal examples. Each example starts with ‘how not to do it’ and then ‘how to do it’.

NOT SMART: Improve our customers’ online sales experience to increase revenue and improve customer experience.

SMART: Improve our customers’ online sales experience:

  • Reducing shopping cart dropouts from 15% to 8%
  • Increasing the ‘how likely are you to recommend to a friend’ metric from 7.4 to 8.5 (out of ten).
  • Timing:
    • March: Piloting improvements
    • May: Full roll-out
    • August: success metrics

NOT SMART: Improve training delivery to increase participant satisfaction and increase the impact on business outcomes.

SMART: Improve training delivery to:

  • Increase participants ‘overall rating’ of training programs from 3.8 to 4.4 (on a scale of 1-5)
  • Provide coaching support following all training programs (at least two 1-1 calls with each participant) to help them embed the learning into their day-to-day work
  • Measure the business impact of at least 20% of all programs, including feedback from participants and their managers

NOT SMART: Speed up our quotation process.

SMART: Speed up our quotation process to:

  • Deliver 80% of quotes within 1-day and 95% of quotes within 2-days.
  • Maintain our quote accuracy (90% of quotes within 5% of final costs)
  • Achieve this within the first half of the year

Do these SMART Goal examples make you nervous?

It’s a natural reaction. SMART Goals define exactly what you’ll deliver to the business. There’s no ‘wiggle room’. That’s enough to make anyone nervous!

Try to see the opportunity too.  

Have confidence in yourself, be willing to demonstrate your contribution. You can build a reputation as someone who defines and delivers business results.

SMART Goals set you up for success.

How to create your own SMART Goals

For any initiative (for example: an annual plan, project plan or personal development plan), I recommend between 3-5 SMART Goals. Less than 3-5 and you’re probably not capturing the full opportunity, more than 3-5 goals and you’re losing focus on ‘what success looks like’.

3-5 goals is the sweet spot.

How do you go about creating SMART Goals for yourself? There are 3 steps:

  1. Preparation
  2. Collaboration
  3. Closing the loop

Preparation

This is all about bringing ‘front of mind’ all the information and insights you’re going to need to set SMART Goals. This includes (but is not limited to):

  • Goals that have been set previously (for previous years, previous relevant projects). Go back and make sure you know what SMART has looked like in the past.
  • Consider current business goals, strategy, metrics, etc. Start at the top of your organization and work down (potentially your Group goals, global business, regional, functional, etc). If you don’t have all the details, make sensible judgements. Understand how your work aligns.
  • Understand what relevant data is available within the organization. What relevant metrics already exist? What can current systems and processes support, in terms of measurement, and what is not possible? You need to define SMART Goals within the realm of what is possible, and this preparation will help you do that.  

Once you’ve prepared, you’re ready to collaborate!

Collaboration

Don’t sit in glorious isolation and develop goals that only make sense to yourself. You can’t achieve the goals by yourself, so why would you define them by yourself?

There are two broad types of collaboration.

  1. Vertical collaboration. Talk with your manager. And if you have a team, talk with your team. Discuss the goals of your organization, the goals of your function, the goals of your region. If they’re not yet fully defined, don’t shrug and give up. Use your common sense, discuss what you already know and anticipate. Make sensible judgements, based on what you already know.
  2. Horizontal collaboration. Talk with your peers in other relevant and related parts of the organization. What are their goals and how are they measuring their own success? All organizations are dysfunctional in their own special way, and often it’s because goals don’t align horizontally. This sets up conflicting priorities across the organization and makes collaboration more difficult.

What does this look like in practice? It’s about reaching out to people and starting a conversation:

I’m working on defining SMART Goals for this… (year, project, etc). It would be helpful to get your input to ‘what success looks like’ and how I should define the goals. I’ll send you an invite for a 20 mins call to discuss.

A couple of points to note about this approach:

  • Don’t give up control. Look at the example above: you’re asking for input but it’s still clear from that you’re responsible for defining the goals.
  • Keep the meetings short. This doesn’t need to take long, it’s not a planning meeting, it’s a goal setting meeting. Take a couple of minutes to set-up the conversation, then ask for input. Keep the questions big, open, neutral. Ask plenty of follow-up and clarifying questions. Let them do most of the talking.

Examples of questions to ask:

  • For this project, what does success look like for you?
  • Interesting, can you tell me more about that?
  • How would you measure that?
  • What else?

Stick with the rule of 3-5, (in this case, aim to talk with 3-5 stakeholders). For example: your manager, a couple of peers in other teams and a subject-matter expert associated with the work.

Close the loop

The beauty of this approach is that you’re starting to create alignment with all those around you. This is a foundation not just for setting the goals, but also delivering the goals.

You can continue this by closing the loop, getting back to the 3-5 people you have spoken with and share your goals with them.

There are two ways to do this:

  • Immediately after the conversation with them, to summarize the key points that were identified
  • After all the collaboration conversations, to share your final goals

This process of sharing may seem unusual, but goals shouldn’t just be SMART, they should also be FAST.

FAST goal setting defines 4 core principles, including being Transparent. There’s more here on FAST Goal setting.

A final note: beware the law of diminishing returns

SMART goal setting is a great discipline, which can become an obsession. Once you start thinking SMART you’ll realize there is endless opportunity for further clarity and refinement. Don’t get sucked down this rabbit hole.

Do the SMART thinking, achieve clarity, then move forward to implement the goals. Most of the value of SMART Goal setting is delivered quickly, don’t labor over the process.

Setting SMART Goals: in summary

In summary:

  • SMART: Specific, Measurable, Ambitious, Relevant, Timely
  • The benefits include clarity, focus, accountability and alignment
  • Don’t be nervous, embrace the opportunity!
  • Create your own SMART Goals through preparation and collaboration, then close the loop as you move towards delivering your goals

Next, dive deeper

Here are two great reads as follow-up.

Learn to turn goals into actions and results with implementation intentions.

Start your projects with a premortem analysis to anticipate and overcome problems before the occur!