For those within the HR realm, it might be easy to assume everyone is adept at setting SMART objectives, because it’s so embedded within their line of work. But many people won’t be familiar with this practice and will perhaps continue to use somewhat outdated methods for monitoring progress.
This is why we’ve decided to put together a comprehensive guide, so that employees can get up and running with this approach and seamlessly implement it in their everyday routine.
In this article, we’ll delve into the definition of the SMART objective concept, exploring the components it’s made up of, the significance it holds for businesses, practical examples, guidelines for writing them, and the role technology can play.
What is a SMART objective?
Put very simply, SMART objectives (or SMART goals) are a form of objective setting which allows managers and employees to create, track and accomplish, short/long-term goals. They tend to refer to goals that help further organisational objectives too. This means companies are ultimately more productive and better able to advance as a result.
SMART objectives should enhance the effectiveness and clarity of business objectives. In essence, they represent a commitment to strategic precision and accountability, fostering a results-oriented mindset.
George T. Doran reportedly coined the phrase SMART objectives back in 1981. Since then, the acronym has evolved and experienced a number of iterations, meaning different managers may define SMART objectives in different ways.
Personal development objectives, on the other hand, describe specific areas in which employees feel they need to develop to achieve their career goals. They might not be specifically tied to corporate objectives, but by achieving personal objectives, employees can become stronger and more confident, thus serving as a greater asset to the team.
What does the SMART acronym consist of?
Specific and stretching
The objective needs to be as precise as possible. Avoid any ambiguities or confusion, so that the employee isn’t left wondering what they’re supposed to do. It’s more helpful for both parties to give them a truly definitive target. Objectives should also be stretching and challenging, so that employees are more motivated and feel a sense of improvement.
A good SMART objective should always set out what success will look like. Measurable goals give something to measure progress against. This makes it easier to determine whether or not the desired outcome was achieved. The measure can either be quantitative or qualitative.
Achievable and agreed
Though it is important for employees to challenge themselves, objectives should also be realistic. Unrealistic or seemingly impossible goals only serve to create a culture of failure, which is not the environment you’ll be looking to cultivate.
Objectives should also be agreed between the employee and their manager. This autonomy helps employees to take ownership of their roles. They need to have a say in their objectives and managers need to be satisfied the objectives are suitable.
All performance objectives should be relevant to what the organisation is trying to achieve and support its overarching ambitions. Without considering relevance, even successfully executed objectives will be deemed a failure if they serve no benefit to the team/company.
Employees and managers should agree on set target dates for when objectives are to be completed. This introduces a sense of urgency and allows managers to determine whether an employee is on track to accomplish their personal objectives. Encourage employees to set near-term objectives (ideally with a one to six-month time frame) rather than year-long objectives.
Near-term objectives can be achieved more quickly and are therefore more motivating. They’re also less likely to become irrelevant as and when business needs change. Of course, short-term goals can also be used as milestones to accomplish bigger goals.
Why are SMART objectives important for businesses?
All too often, goal setting gets sidelined in business, which results in many employees not knowing what is expected of them at work. When this is the case, employees can get frustrated and disengaged. On top of this, they are fated to let management down, as they don’t have a clear picture of how to appease expectations.
This is where the SMART acronym comes into play. This system gives organisations a more effective way to set objectives. Employees and their line managers can ultimately put together an action plan to improve performance, increase productivity, and contribute to business targets.
SMART objectives provide focus, direction, set expectations, and provide a sense of purpose for the workforce. When employees are confident of what is expected of them, they won’t waste time or energy worrying, allowing them to be more efficient and make the most of their talent/skillset.
Examples of SMART objectives
It’s important to assess whether your objectives truly are specific, so take the necessary time to consider this properly. For example,“increase sales” is far from a specific objective. An employee might question; “More sales of what, how many more sales, and by when?” This uncertainty will only raise their stress levels and possibly lead to burnout (which is an issue now recognised by the World Health Organisation).
A specific objective would be; “Increase sales of advertising space this calendar year by 15%”. This gives employees a clear idea of what to achieve and by when. But they should also be trackable. A quantitative measure might be; “Reduce departmental overheads by 10% this financial year”, while a good qualitative objective would be; “Was the project completed on time and within budget to the satisfaction of the customer?”.
The overall goals of the business should be frequently shared with employees in a language they can easily understand, and before personal objectives are set. In this sense, it’s better to align SMART objectives upward, rather than cascading goals downward. This improves transparency while giving individuals a clear sense of their contribution.
How do you get employees onboard with SMART objectives?
When it comes to getting employees onboard with this method, it all boils down to communication. Once SMART objectives can be defined, managers must emphasise the importance of this performance management strategy to their employees.
Employees should be encouraged to challenge themselves, while also being intentional about their unique strengths and weaknesses. Companies can then utilise the appropriate tools to keep employees engaged and lines of communication open.
By properly embracing SMART and clear objectives, employees will be empowered to prioritise their workload and deliver results. This will further help to create business value. And, as we’ve already touched upon, it’s crucial to put employees in the driver’s seat when seeking buy-in, as they’re far more likely to be driven when they feel like the architects of their own destiny.
How to successfully implement SMART objectives
By following these easy-to-implement tips, you’ll be able to create SMART objectives that will improve long-term performance:
1. Ensure employees know their limitations
Goals that are stretching and challenging are great but warn employees of the dangers of setting goals that are completely unrealistic given the time and resources available. If you have any employees who have issues with perfectionism, this is certainly something to keep an eye on.
Over time, employees will have a better grasp of their limits and their rate of progress. But in the meantime, managers may have to step in to ensure employees aren’t overtaxing themselves.
2. Be flexible
As is the case in any business environment, organisational needs and requirements can change at pace. What was pressing three months ago might now seem unimportant or unsupportive of company objectives. If this is the case, employees should feel confident to adapt their established goals accordingly.
However, these changes should be meaningful and can be discussed during regular one-to-ones between managers and employees. These meetings are a great time for both parties to share their thoughts on the direction they’re heading in.
3. Use technology to assist goal-setting
Performance management software makes the whole process of setting, agreeing, and tracking SMART objectives easy for everyone involved. Once SMART objectives are drafted by the employee, the manager can indicate whether the objectives are appropriate and discuss relevant changes.
This makes the setting of goals a collaborative effort and gives everyone a shared view of what has been agreed. Once objectives are formalised within a single digital platform, it becomes easy to keep tabs of progress and give feedback in real-time. This ensures achievements are celebrated in a timely fashion and obstacles are removed when extra support is needed.
4. Explain the importance of SMART objectives
Whether you are creating general SMART objectives or personal development objectives, your employees need to know that your company takes objective-setting seriously, and that goals really matter. Some may need to be educated on this matter if they’ve not worked in this way previously.
During one of your regular reviews, explain how effective goal setting can impact their performance, career progression, and chances of advancement within the company. You should also take this opportunity to communicate just how important they and their role are to the business. This acknowledgement will demonstrate that you really do value them and the part they play.
5. Be transparent and caring
Organisational transparency is an increasing concern in the business world. Employees today demand ever-increasing degrees of openness and attention to their wellbeing. Forward-thinking companies are delivering in this regard. Transparency ultimately equates to trust and employee engagement.
During the goal-setting process, context is important. Explain any pressing concerns or obstacles that might impede progress. If you are clear and forthright employees will be able to find solutions to problems that might otherwise have stifled them.
6. Encourage a culture of development
We all get a sense of accomplishment when we have completed a task. This is why so many of us keep to-do lists and tick off activities when they are achieved. It makes us feel organised and productive. However, easy wins aren’t always the most effective motivator. If the goals in question are more challenging, we’ll put more effort into completing them to a higher standard and on time.
Encourage employees to take on responsibilities they might have ordinarily left to someone else and give them an opportunity to complete training and other educational courses so they can constantly better themselves.
Which technology should you use?
At Advanced, we empower organisations to set agile goals that foster collaboration, promote continuous improvement, and elevate teams to achieve better results in a constantly evolving environment.
By enabling an in-the-moment feedback model, our Performance & Talent software ensures employees are always learning and developing, while being laser-focused on their professional and personal goals.
This innovative solution makes setting and tracking SMART objectives incredibly easy, so that individuals can fulfil their potential and organisations can reach their ambitions.
Read more about Performance & Talent and how it can help you and your employees create tailored targets, improve performance, and deliver business value.