What Are SMART Objectives?

Goal setting is one of the universal facts of life. Whether we’re trying to fulfil our personal ambitions or simply making the most of our spare time, planning ahead and setting objectives is a fundamental aspect of the way we live. In the corporate world, goals are an essential part of the lifeblood, providing structure and accountability at every level of the process. So, what are SMART objectives and how do you start using them?

SMART objectives are an effective method for establishing, tracking and achieving your company’s goals. Read on to find out how you can make the most of your performance management software to implement them in your business.

The link between goal-setting and high achievement is well established, which is why it has been common practice in the workplace for decades. Realistic goals motivate people to do their very best, stretching their abilities, unlocking new talent and ultimately improving your company’s bottom line.

While there are a variety of ways businesses establish and track their objectives, SMART objectives are among the most popular. Let’s take a closer look at what they are, how you can implement them and why they help your company achieve the best results.

What are SMART objectives?

SMART objectives (also known as SMART goals and SMART criteria) first entered the business world lexicon in November 1981 in a paper for Management Review, ‘There’s a SMART way to write management’s goals and objectives‘. Since then, they have become a regular feature in the planning and execution of objectives for successful companies, allowing them to take the critical steps necessary to achieve the best results.

SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. Let’s elaborate on these steps:


Setting vague objectives is a recipe for failure. By being specific and explaining clearly the who, how, why and when of your goals, you can ensure that everyone is on the same page from the beginning. Your SMART objectives should be clear to everyone while being focused on a specific outcome, so make sure you keep these simple and significant.


Monitoring and tracking your SMART objectives is crucial to ensuring teams and employees are on track to hit their targets. Consistent and effective measurement of objectives is best achieved by using a comprehensive performance management suite, allowing employees throughout the company hierarchy to understand in real-time the progress they are making.


Ambitious goals are worthless if they aren’t attainable, so making sure your objectives are understood and agreed upon allows your employees to own them with confidence. At the same time, make sure your SMART objectives encourage the development of new skills so they motivate employees to stretch their abilities.


Setting goals that fit within the broader ambitions of your business gives your SMART objectives meaning above and beyond the individual goals. Does the objective sit comfortably within the core values of your company’s culture? Making sure your goals are aligned to the general ethos and broader vision of your company maximizes the use of your time and resources.


Your goals are unlikely to be achieved if you don’t set a deadline, so including checkpoints and due dates makes sure that teams and employees are clear on expectations. Start date and target dates invite a sense of urgency while giving managers and leaders the knowledge they need to make adjustments or increase pressure if performance starts lagging behind your goals.


How to use SMART objectives

Provided you put the right processes in place, setting, tracking and achieving SMART objectives is easy. By examining your company’s broader vision you can focus on the key areas to prioritize, whether this is increasing sales, improving existing products or developing new ones, attracting new customers or introducing new quality processes.

Once you’ve honed in on what matters the most, consider the following:

Coordinate between managers, team leaders and employees

When setting specific SMART goals you should seek out the input of everyone likely to be involved in its accomplishment. While some companies have a tendency to set goals from the top-down, with CEOs and executives dictating the desired outcomes, SMART objectives work best when they are established as a consequence of dialogue throughout the chain of command.

This coordination between managers, team leaders and employees helps ensure that the goal is clear and the responsibilities of everyone involved are transparent. With everyone on the same page, fewer hiccups are likely to occur as you work towards achieving your objectives. You can also benchmark your objectives against prior company performance, cross-department analysis or through competitor research to help ensure they are realistic and attainable.

Track with performance management software

Setting specific and measurable objectives allows leaders and employees to know at any given point whether or not they are on track to hitting their targets, and using a performance management software suite gives both a birds’ eye view of how their performance is impacting on broader goals, as well as the ability to hone in on the day to day priorities.

Performance management software allows you to clearly define the metrics you’re using to measure progress, for instance, the additional number of units to be manufactured or the percentage increase in sales you’re aiming to hit. These targets can be readily identified by all users, making progress tangible for everyone involved.

With these metrics in place, performance management tools can be used to highlight exactly how your objectives are progressing, including any short-term checkpoints or milestones teams and individuals need to be aware of. Percentage of objectives completed, green/red “traffic lights”, start/stop/continue and other visual indicators of how well your goals are progressing can all be adopted in your performance management tools to give leaders and employees an at-a-glance understanding of where things currently stand – and where corrective action needs to be taken.

Discuss “what are SMART objectives?” with regular meetings and one2ones

While monitoring progress allows businesses to spot where objectives are on track as well as where people are lagging behind, it’s the regular conversations between managers, leaders and individuals which really bind the organization together for optimal alignment. Simply discussing what’s required at the outset isn’t enough; ongoing conversations need to be a core element of the SMART objective process if they are to be successful.

From weekly team meetings to regular one2ones between managers and employees, consistent dialogue which flows in all directions makes sure that the relevant people remain focused on work that is centred around hitting those objectives. These exchanges also offer a great opportunity to discuss the personal development objectives of members of staff, offering development and training which is in line both with the wider goals of the company and the personal ambitions of the employee. A better understanding of how your company can support the development of each employee will increase their motivation and engagement.

Why use SMART objectives?

Having examined what SMART objectives are and how to implement them, let’s recap some of the key reasons why you should adopt them in your company’s workflow.

  • One of the greatest hurdles to optimal individual and team performance is a lack of clarity. If everyone is on a different page, sooner or later projects go off the rail, missing deadlines and going over budget. Adding crystal clear clarity from the outset means that everyone from the executive office down to the factory floor or office space understands where they are heading and what’s expected of them to get their.
  • By tracking unambiguous goals in a performance management system, teams and individuals are able to steer their focus to where it matters most and make huge gains in efficiency and productivity. Problems can be flagged and addressed as and when they occur, rather than being ignored until it’s too late.
  • Goals are powerful motivating forces, and goals which possess a clear structure with defined parameters and recognizable deadlines are even more effective influences on how well people perform. Combined with regular feedback discussions – either face-to-face or via your company’s internal communications systems – SMART objectives are capable of lubricating the engines of your company and encourage the best results from your pool of talent.
  • SMART objectives allow for multiple layers of alignment, whether this is between the specific goals of a given team, department or individual and the broader aims of the company, as well as between the personal ambition of individuals in the context of their role within the business. Consistently tracking these objectives makes sure that this alignment is present throughout the entire process.
  • The fundamental benefit of setting SMART objectives is to make your goals achievable, delivering optimal results for your company and fitting into the ambitious bigger picture. By following the processes outlined above, objectives can be established with confidence that those involved will have the time, skills and resources to accomplish them.