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A complete guide to SMART goals: everything you need to know

All of us at monday.com

    If you’re reading this article, you’re trying to find out what a SMART goal is, right?

    It’s a phrase that’s thrown around a lot in the project management world. And amongst all the other jargon out there, it’s no surprise that some definitions get lost in translation.

    So that’s why we’ve created this ultimate guide to SMART goals. To give you a no-nonsense overview of what SMART goals actually are, how to use them, and how to set SMART goals for yourself.

    So let’s not waste any more time and answer the question you’ve all been waiting for.

    What are SMART goals?

    A SMART goal is a well-defined, trackable, and measurable goal. They help you pinpoint what you want to achieve, how you plan to do it, and when it needs to be completed.

    The word ‘SMART’ is an acronym for the 5 elements of a SMART objective:

    monday.com helps businesses create, implement and manage their SMART goals from start to finish

    So let’s break down the SMART criteria:

    #1. Specific

    Your goals need to be simple, clear, and specific. A vague goal just won’t cut the mustard in the SMART framework.

    For example, imagine you have a goal that says:

    ‘My goal is to increase sales.’

    That’s great, but there are still a lot of questions unanswered. How do you plan to increase sales? How much increase would you like to see? What’s your deadline?

    Think about the specifics, and you’ll have something more like this:

    ‘My goal is to achieve a 20% increase in sales in the next 3 months by improving the customer experience.’ 

    Doing this removes any possibility for misinterpretation, and makes the outcome 100% clear for everyone involved.

    #2. Measurable

    If you’re setting goals, you need to have a measurement in place to determine success.

    Think about our previous example. We can clearly see that an increase of 20% in sales means that the goal is accomplished. Now picture the goal without the 20% increase. How will you know when you’ve hit the goal?

    The short answer is, you won’t. You need that measurement in place to determine when the goal is complete.

    By having success measures in place, you can easily see how your goal is progressing, if it’s on track to be delivered as expected, and when it’s accomplished.

    Top tip: a great way to keep track of measurable goals is to use work management software, like monday.com.

    With the help of our software, you can track the progress of your goals and see how they’re ticking along. Much easier than manually trying to keep on top of it, don’t you think?

    monday.com provides users with a

    #3. Attainable

    To be SMART, you must have an achievable goal.

    When you’re creating your next goal, ask yourself this:

    Based on experience and the resources you have available, is this goal realistic?

    If the answer is ‘no’, you might want to rethink it.

    Let’s use an example.

    Last year, your company onboarded 150 new clients. The year before that, 75. So this year, a realistic goal might be to onboard 300 new clients — but ideally, you want to be hitting closer to 500.

    It’s a big jump going from 150 one year to 500 the next year, so you need to think about if this is realistic. If you think it’s attainable, you need to outline how you plan to achieve it. If it’s not, you need to reconsider a more realistic number.

    Ultimately whatever you decide to do, you need to make sure that you’re creating a realistic goal. Otherwise, it won’t be SMART.

    #4. Relevant

    SMART goals are always relevant to the bigger picture. This means aligning goals with the company’s overall objectives and key performance indicators (KPIs), bringing you closer to defined success.

    Imagine your company has a KPI that involves breaking into a new market.

    So instead of creating a SMART goal that focuses on growing your existing customer base, you might want to implement a specific goal that focuses on reaching customers from the new market.

    As a result, you’ve got a relevant goal that’s contributing towards the overall success of the company.

    #5. Time-bound

    Every SMART goal must be time sensitive. Without a deadline, who knows when a goal is accomplished, if ever?

    Now that’s a scary thought — a goal with no end in sight.

    To avoid that painful scenario, all SMART goals must have a set date for completion. Whether that’s at the end of each quarter or the end of each year, you must include a time frame so that you have something to work toward.

    And if you have a long term goal, you might want to break it down into smaller time scales to lessen the load.

    Gantt charts are a great way to display various timelines in one project, so you might want to think about using one to display a SMART goal that’s broken down into milestones.

    monday.com provides users with a Gantt chart view

    Pros and cons of using SMART goals

    Now we’ve broken down what a SMART goal is and what the acronym stands for, let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of using them.

    What are the benefits of using SMART goals?

    There’s a reason businesses have been using SMART goals for decades — they work.

    So let’s take a look at some of the benefits in more detail:

    • They provide clarity: SMART goals are clear and concise. There’s no room for interpretation, so everyone will be on the same page, working toward the same goal.

    As a result, your team will be much better aligned. Especially if you’re using a platform that allows your team to collaborate with each other while they’re working towards their shared goals.

    • They keep your team motivated: Having goals to work towards keeps team morale high, and gives everyone a reason to focus on the bigger picture.

    Especially if goals are incentivized with an annual bonus scheme — definitely something to think about if you want to make sure your team is doing their best to achieve their goals.

    • They provide direction: If you’re looking for a way to provide your team with some direction, SMART goals are the way to go.

    They ensure that everyone is working on the right track, and that everything is contributing to the overall development of the business. As a result, everyone is powering in the same direction.

    Are there any disadvantages?

    It’s hard to believe there are any disadvantages to using SMART goals, because they really do provide a lot of benefits.

    But there are some drawbacks to be aware of:

    • There’s a lack of flexibility: Because they’re often tied into the overall company goals, SMART goals are pretty set in stone. This means they don’t provide as much flexibility, which can make it tricky if things don’t pan out as expected.
    • They can prevent overachieving: As we’ve already mentioned, SMART goals need to be realistic. As a result, this might prevent some businesses from creating goals that are ‘unrealistic’, but might be achievable. Put simply, SMART goals can sometimes prevent companies from reaching their full potential.
    • It can be a time-consuming process: Creating a SMART goal isn’t as simple as sitting at your desk and writing a goal. In fact, it can be quite a time consuming process to finalize your SMART goals and roll them out. But as a result, you’re left with a solid goal that’s going to help the company succeed.

    So would you rather spend more time on goals that are going to be pivotal to your company’s growth, or 10 minutes on goals that won’t really go anywhere? We know what we’d choose.

    What is a good SMART goal?

    Ha! This is a trick question.

    Any goal that follows the SMART acronym will be a good goal. So long as it’s specific, measurable, attainable, relatable, and time-bound, you can rest assured you’ve got a good one.

    But we understand that it’s easier said than done to spot a good SMART goal when it’s something you’re not familiar with. So, to break it down further, we’ve outlined what makes a good SMART goal in the following table:

    What makes a good SMART goal?What makes a bad SMART goal?
    Clear and conciseConfusing to understand
    Ties in with the overall company goalsNot related to the overall business goals
    Clear measurements and timescalesNot measurable or time-sensitive
    Realistic and achievableBeyond what is reasonable

    Make sure that your goal has everything from the column on the left, and you can rest assured that you’ve hit the criteria for a good SMART goal.

    Which of the following goals is a smart goal?

    Now it’s time to put your knowledge to the test.

    From what you’ve learned so far, we want you to identify which of the following is a SMART goal example:

    1. Increase engagement on social media within 3 months.
    2. Increase the amount of qualified leads the company obtains through the website by 15% within the next 3 months by improving the user experience online.
    3. Improve sales.

    And here’s a clue for you: the company you’re working for wants to increase the amount of sales they make through their company website. 

    And the answer is (drumroll please)…

    B!

    Nice work if you got it right. Your prize is the satisfaction of knowing you can spot a SMART goal, you lucky thing.

    So B has everything a SMART goal should have. It’s got the detail we need, it’s time sensitive, it’s measurable, and it relates to the overall company goal.

    So what about the other 2?

    Well, A is missing some specifics, a measurable component, and it doesn’t really tie in with the overall company goal. As for C — well, we hope you know why that one’s not right.

    How do you write a SMART goal?

    Now that the fun and games are over, it’s time to get into the thick of it.

    You know what a SMART goal is. You know what the SMART acronym stands for. You understand the pros and cons of using them.

    But how do you create your own? 

    Let’s break it down into 3 simple steps.

    #1. Create your initial goal

    First things first, it’s time to think about the basics of your goal.

    This is just your starting point. A chance to think about what it is you want to achieve, how you’re going to get there, and discuss it with your team.

    If you’re working with other members of your team on this, using a piece of collaborative software might be a good idea — especially if your team is working remotely.

    monday.com’s work management software, for example, has a variety of features that allows teams to seamlessly collaborate and work together. You can add comments, provide feedback, and host everything in one central location.

    Perfect for planning and discussing what your SMART goals should be.

    monday.com's software has a number of collaboration features, allowing users to communicate with members of their team.

    #2. Work through the SMART structure

    Now you’ve got a solid understanding of what you want to achieve with your initial goal, you can start to apply the SMART structure.

    Step by step, take your goal through the SMART acronym and change it accordingly. Your goal will get longer and more detailed, and eventually you’re left with a SMART goal.

    This goal setting process can take some time, so don’t try to rush it. You want to make sure that the goal you create is the best it can be, so get input from your team and spend as much time as you need creating the goal.

    #3. Implement your SMART goal

    And voila — you have your SMART goal. Now it’s time to put it into action.

    Here’s what you need to do:

    • Make sure your team fully understands the SMART goal
    • Discuss how to achieve it
    • Outline how the goal relates to the overall success of the company

    Once you’ve done this, you can now roll out the goal to everyone in your team.

    We’d recommend using a work management platform to do this. Not only will it make the process easier to manage, but it also allows you to share the SMART goal with your team and track how things are progressing.

    monday.com's platform allows users to create their own quarterly objectives

    Get started with smart goal setting with monday.com

    At monday.com, we know how important it is to track and manage your goals efficiently. After all, without being able to track your goals, how will you know if they’re on schedule?

    Our work management software makes managing SMART goals much more efficient. With our platform, you can track your goals from start to finish, make quick changes, and easily share goals with your team.

    Let’s take a look at some of the benefits that come with using monday.com to manage your SMART goals:

    #1. Track your SMART goal progress

    As we’ve just mentioned, tracking your SMART goals is super important. You need to track how things are progressing to see if you’re going to hit your target on time.

    With monday.com, this won’t be a problem.

    On our platform, you can see your progress on each goal — and you can see when each goal is completed. All it takes is one quick glance to see how far along things are, and if anything might be falling behind.

    monday.com allows users to track progress and mark tasks as completed

    If you’re looking for a place to start, we’d recommend using our project tracker template to keep on top of your SMART goals.

    #2. Share goals with your team

    Collaborating with monday.com is a piece of cake.

    Our software makes it easy for teams to communicate. Everyone can add comments, share updates, and have oversight of everything that’s going on in the entire project — not just the SMART goals.

    monday.com’s quarterly goal setting template is an ideal layout for inputting your new SMART goals and sharing them with your team.

    monday.com's platform allows users to create quarterly objectives.

    #3. Easily make changes

    Changing goals when they’re already in motion is a pain.

    But we have a solution that can make the process much easier, and save you a lot of time and hassle.

    Can you guess what it is?

    Yep — it’s monday.com.

    Our software is intuitive, flexible, and easy to use. So if you need to amend or tweak your SMART goal for whatever reason, you won’t have to worry about the grunt work needed to make those changes.

    Projects Overview

    If you’re keeping track of your goals manually, however, this might be a bit trickier for you. We wouldn’t recommend it.

    SMART goals keep everyone on the same page

    So there you have it. A complete guide to SMART goals.

    Now you know exactly how to set specific, measurable and clear goals for yourself. And you know why using the SMART criteria is the best way to create effective goals. We feel like proud parents.

    If you’re thinking about using a work management software to get the ball rolling with SMART goals, why not take a look at our master plan template? It’s designed with SMART goals in mind, meaning you can hit the grounding without the fuss of creating a template from scratch.

    Get started for free