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7 Steps to SMARTER Goal Setting

SMARTER Goal or Target Setting

There are many articles about target or goal setting on the internet. Here’s my contribution to add to the mix!

Goals can be used in a variety of ways. They may be used to lay out a strategy, to set out the steps to achieving a strategy or to set personal targets for training, development and career aspirations.

Goals or targets should be a challenge. There’s no point in setting myself a goal that I can achieve within a few seconds of sitting down at the desk to work. Equally, there’s no point in setting a goal which is so hard I am unlikely to achieve it. So, a goal should be something which will stretch, motivate and challenge me but which I consider I will probably achieve.

I am the sort of person who finds it useful to set myself goals which should be compliant with the “SMARTER” list below. They help me stay focussed on the task.

I also find it useful to set the members of my team SMARTER goals - If I am going to be accountable for their work I want to be able to check on progress easily.

SMARTER goal setting is a useful tool as part of time management and workload prioritisation - see my article.

SMARTER is an acronym in which each letter stands for another word as shown below.


S = Specific - goals should be well scoped and the description accurate and explicit. If the main goal is large and complex, it may help to break down the steps to achieving the goal by setting sub-goals – each of which should also be SMARTER. What you call these sub-goals doesn’t really matter: Targets, tasks, products, work packages or any other name that has meaning to you.

A critical aspect of goal setting for me is that I like to write them down. Without a record available to all stakeholders in the goal, it will be very difficult to monitor and review progress.

M = Measurable - The goal must be quantifiable. By that I don’t mean there must be some numerical value attached which can be counted (although, if there is a numerical value, that is a useful measure). What is important is that it must be possible to know when the goal has been achieved. What does success look like?

A = Achievable - Setting myself a goal which is unachievable is just setting myself up to fail. It is important to be able to achieve the goal but, equally, it must not be too easy - there is little satisfaction, or benefit, in achieving an easy goal. However, a goal which stretches and challenges us will be much more rewarding when it is completed. The goal should be within your control. if you have no control, even over some elements of the work, it may be impossible to achieve the goal.

When setting a SMARTER goal for someone else, I generally try to set the SMARTER attributes with them so that they can agree and ‘buy-in’ to the various aspects. However, when giving someone a target to meet it is natural for them to try to haggle (up or down) over the deliverables and the deadline. Sometimes I might have to give a staff member a deadline or deliverable which is not agreed but which I still think is reasonable, will meet all the SMARTER attributes and which they can achieve.

R = Relevant - A goal must be pertinent to the overall task or objective. There’s no point in setting a goal which makes no contribution to the strategy.

T = Time-specific - A critical aspect of a goal is to set a time by which it must be completed. This has a great significance on making the goal challenging but not impossible. I might set myself a goal which I reasonably calculate will take 3 weeks to complete. However, If I set myself a time limit of 10 weeks it becomes too easy and is not a challenge or if I set myself a target of 1 day it may become impossible and I will fail.

E = Evaluate - It must be possible to assess the progress towards the goal. That evaluation will allow the plan and goal to be revised, if necessary. This is where sub-goals become important as stepping stones by which progress can be monitored.

R = Revise - Don’t be too proud to revise a plan which isn’t working. If the plan must be changed, then set new SMARTER goals! Remember to record the new plan.

The 7 steps to setting SMARTER goals are:

S = Specific

M = Measurable

A = Achievable

R = Relevant

T = Time-specific

E = Evaluate

R = Revise

Peter Cromarty

Peter Cromarty is a former air traffic controller and pilot. He spent 27 years as a safety regulator of ATM/CNS, airspace and aerodromes. View his Linked In profile

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