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How to Create SMART Actionable Goals

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What are SMART Goals?

They are statements of the important results you are working to accomplish. A SMART goal is designed in a way to foster clear and mutual understanding of what constitutes
expected levels of performance and successful professional development. Coaches use goal setting as a technique to help their clients focus on change in self and in an organization, and is often used with 360-degree multi source feedback session debriefings.

What are the SMART criteria?

Specific: What will be accomplished? What actions will you take?
Measurable: What data will measure the goal? (How much? How well?
Achievable: Is the goal doable? Do you have the necessary skills and resources?
Relevant: How does the goal align with broader goals? Why is the result important?
Time Specific: What is the time frame for accomplishing the goal?

How do I decide the right scope for my SMART Goals? (How big? How many?)

SMART goals are meant to address all of your major job responsibilities. Remember, goals are intended to focus attention and resources on what is most important so that you can be successful in achieving your priorities. SMART Goals are goals for your day-to-day job.

Common types of goals are to:

  • Increase something
  • Make something
  • Improve something
  • Reduce something
  • Save something
  • Develop someone (yourself!)

Where to start?
1. Start by thinking about your whole job and the broad areas (or “buckets”) of responsibility and results for which you are accountable.
2. Develop a goal statement for each bucket. To get the scope right, remember to focus on end results, not tasks.
3. Goals should be high level enough to encompass the core outcomes for which you are responsible, but specific and clear enough so you will be able to measure success.
4. Goals should be on-going job responsibilities and any new projects, assignments, priorities, or initiatives that are specific to this performance cycle.
5. Having too many goals can be an indicator that your goals are scoped at too low a level and are focused more on tasks than on end results.
6. If it seems that your goals are becoming too numerous and task-oriented, it may be helpful to consider combining several goal statements into a broader outcome area.

How to write your S-M-A-R-T goal


S – Specific
When setting a goal, be specific about what you want to accomplish. Think about this as the mission statement for your goal. This isn’t a detailed list of how you’re going to meet a goal, but
it should include an answer to the popular ‘w’ questions:
 Who – Consider who needs to be involved to achieve the goal (this is especially important when you’re working on a group project).
 What – Think about exactly what you are trying to accomplish and don’t be afraid to get very detailed.
 When – You’ll get more specific about this question under the “time-bound” section of defining S.M.A.R.T. goals, but you should at least set a time frame.
 Where – This question may not always apply, especially if you’re setting personal goals, but if there’s a location or relevant event, identify it here.
 Which – Determine any related obstacles or requirements. This question can be beneficial in deciding if your goal is realistic. For example, if the goal is to open a baking business, but you’ve never baked anything before, that might be an issue. As a result, you may refine the specifics of the goal to be “Learn how to bake in order to open a baking business.”
 Why – What is the reason for the goal? When it comes to using this method for employees, the answer will likely be along the lines of company advancement or career development.

“S” actions may include:

Oversee Update Write Coordinate Upgrade Process Supervise Develop Provide Manage Create Maintain Plan Implement Reconcile Support Evaluate Direct Transition Produce Administer

Note that this list does not include verbs like “improve,” “reduce,” or “increase” (e.g. “Improve customer service” or “reduce cost.” These imply the direction that you want a the result to move in, but don’t do much to explain the role or specific action that you will take to accomplish this change.

M – Measurable

What metrics are you going to use to determine if you meet the goal? This makes a goal more tangible because it provides a way to measure progress. If it’s a project that’s going to take a few months to complete, then set some milestones by considering specific tasks to accomplish. Milestones are a series of steps along the way that when added up will result in the completion of your main goal.

  • As the “M” in SMART states, there should be a source of information to measure or determine whether a goal has been achieved.
  • The M is a direct (or possibly indirect) indicator of what success for a particular goal will look like.
  • Sometimes measurement is difficult and managers and employees will need to work together to identify the most relevant and feasible data sources and collection methods.
    Data collection efforts needed to measure a goal can be included in that goal’s action plan.
  • Even if a perfect, direct measurement source is not immediately feasible for a given goal, the discussion about the desired end result (why this goal is important) and what
    the measurement options are (what success might look like) is an important and valuable part of performance planning.
  • Measurement methods can be both quantitative (productivity results, money saved or earned, etc.) and qualitative (client testimonials, surveys, etc.).

Some typical data types and data collection methods may include:

Quality or accuracy rates  / Automated reports
Amounts produced / Audits, tests
Revenue generated / Surveys
Productivity rates / Work products, samples
Customer Satisfaction / Other documents

A – Achievable
This focuses on how important a goal is to you and what you can do to make it attainable and may require developing new skills and changing attitudes. The goal is meant to inspire
motivation, not discouragement. Think about:

  • how to accomplish the goal,
  • if you have the tools/skills needed,
  • if not, consider what it would take to attain them.

R – Relevant
Relevance refers to focusing on something that makes sense with the broader business goals. For example, if the goal is to launch a new program or service, it should be something that’s in alignment with the overall business/department objectives. Your team may be able to launch a new program, but if your division is not prioritizing launching that type of new programs, then the goal wouldn’t be relevant.

T – Time Specific
Anyone can set goals, but if it lacks realistic timing, chances are you’re not going to succeed. Providing a target date for deliverables is imperative. Ask specific questions about the goal deadline and what can be accomplished within that time period. If the goal will take three months to complete, it’s useful to define what should be achieved half-way through the process. Providing time constraints also creates a sense of urgency.

The Easiest Way to Write S.M.A.R.T. Goals
When it comes to writing S.M.A.R.T. goals, ask yourself and other team members a lot of questions. The answers will help fine-tune your strategy, ensuring the goals are something that’s actually attainable. Utilize the template provided in the appendix as a guide.

This doesn’t have to be a daunting experience; in fact, it should be quite illuminating. Below we demonstrate how to write S.M.A.R.T. goals for two typical business scenarios: completing a project and improving personal performance. We’ve also created an easy-to-use S.M.A.R.T. goals template and worksheet to help you get started.

Examples of Creating a SMART Goal
Here are two examples of initial goals (outcomes) we’ll use to walk through this process:

  1. I want to complete a project,
  2. I want to improve my performance.

This is a typical approach to creating goals, but both of these are very vague. With the current wording, the goals probably aren’t going to be attainable. The statements lack specifics, timelines, motivation, and a reality check.

Now, let’s use the S.M.A.R.T. formula to clarify both and create new and improved goals.

Outcome: I want to complete a project
Specific: Many people are accessing our current services from their mobile devices. Since it’s not a responsive site, it provides a poor experience for customers. I want to launch a mobile app for my company website by the end of June, which requires involvement from software development, design, and marketing.
Measurable: Creating a mobile app for our organization will require a lot of resources. To make it worthwhile, I’d like to have 50,000 installs of the site within six months of launch. I’d also like to show a 5% conversion rate from customers using the mobile site.
Achievable: The departments that will be involved have signed-off on creating a mobile app. I’ll need to manage the project and set milestones to keep everyone motivated and on target.
Relevant: Improving the customer experience on mobile devices is a core initiative for my company this year.
Time Specific: In order to achieve 50,000 mobile app installs and a 5% conversion rate by the end of the fiscal year, the app will need to be launched by Q2 with a robust marketing campaign that should continue through the end of the year.

Outcome: I want to improve my performance
Specific: I received low marks on my ability to use PowerPoint at my last performance review. Improving my skills requires that I learn how to use PowerPoint efficiently and practice using it by creating various presentations. I’d like to be more proficient using PowerPoint in time for my next review in six months.
Measurable: By the time of my next review, I should be able to create presentations that incorporate graphs, images, and other media in a couple of hours. I should also be able to efficiently use and create templates in PowerPoint that my coworkers can also use.
Achievable: Improving my PowerPoint skills is instrumental in moving forward in my career and receiving a better performance review. I can set time aside every week to watch PowerPoint tutorials and even enroll in an online class that can teach me new skills. I can also ask coworkers and my manager for PowerPoint tips.
Relevant: Working with PowerPoint is currently 25% of my job. As I move up in the company, I’ll need to spend 50% of my time creating PowerPoint presentations. I enjoy my career and want to continue to grow within this company.
Time Specific: In six months, I should be proficient in PowerPoint ensuring it only occupies 25% of my workload instead of the nearly 40% of the time it occupies now.

Once you go through and write your goals according to each S.M.A.R.T. characteristic, you can then combine and consolidate all the work you’ve done into one S.M.A.R.T. goal.

S.M.A.R.T. goal (reframed): I want to complete a project
Description: Improving the customer experience on mobile devices is a core initiative for my company this year, so we are going to create a mobile app. By the end of the fiscal year, there should be 50,000 installs of the mobile app we develop, and it should produce a 5% conversion rate. We’ll build the mobile app in-house and launch it by the end of June with an app-related marketing campaign that will continue to the end of the year.
Milestone: Mobile app launches end of June.
Deadline: End of the fiscal year.

S.M.A.R.T. goal (reframed): I want to improve my performance
Description: To grow in my career, I need to improve my PowerPoint skills. By taking online classes and reviewing tutorials, I’ll improve my PowerPoint skills so that it only requires 25% of my work time.
Milestone: Complete an online PowerPoint course in three months.
Deadline: Next employee review in six months.


Adapted from the University of California, ‘SMART Goals: A How to Guide’