June 15, 2021
Training and Development 05 January 2018
Why it’s Important to be SMART When Setting Goals
Alexandria Brown
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The process of Goal Setting can be an incredibly powerful Employee Experience driver. Goal setting gives direct reports an opportunity to work with their manager to discuss what their professional future holds within the organization and connect short-term motivators with a longer-term vision. 

Although there are numerous methods you can use to set goals, I’m a fan of using the SMART Goal method to structure goal setting. Keep in mind, SMART is a structure – it’s up to the individual and manager to agree on a goal that is challenging and stretching in order to push the team member to exhibit greater effort and performance to achieve something impactful.

As cheesy as the acronym “SMART” is, it’s memorable enough to keep even the greenest team members on track when they are mapping out their goals. So how do you define if your goal is SMART? In order to be SMART, your goal has to be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-oriented. Let’s break down the aspects of the acronym and how they are applied to the goal-setting process.


During the initial part of the SMART Goal definition process, I find it poses the question “What needs to be accomplished?” The focus here is to state exactly what you are committed to achieving by defining the ‘Who, Where, Why and/or What’. Often times you’ll see SPECIFIC goal statements that start with an action word. 

Example: Design and deploy a company-wide new hire onboarding program.

TIP: You've detailed the ‘specific’ when you or others can readily observe the ‘what’ of your goal.


Building off of the ‘what’ from SPECIFIC, the next step is to define how you will demonstrate and evaluate the extent to which the goal has been met. For all of us data nerds out there, this is the part of our goal definition process where we incorporate qualitative or quantitative methods of measurement (think percentages, hard numbers, survey data, etc.)

If we look back to our example above, I could add in a component of evaluation to my new hire onboarding program by measuring the rate in which new hire attrition decreases within the first 6 months of a new hire’s employment. 

Example: Design and deploy a company-wide new hire onboarding program that decreases new hire attrition 15% within the new hire’s first 6 months of employment.

TIP: When you’re thinking about measurement, consider touchpoints like frequency, time frame, quantity, or cost. 


This is often the most challenging aspect of goal setting because it demands a high level of self-awareness from the individual to determine if they have the skills, knowledge, ability or experience to truly execute on their goal. In evaluating how achievable your goal is, you’ll need to assess whether you have, or can get access to, the appropriate resources you need in order to achieve your goal. As a checkpoint, ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Do I have, or will I be able to secure, the financial means to execute this goal? 

  • Will the execution of this goal require time or resources from other stakeholders? 

  • Do I have enough time to accomplish this goal alongside my required functional work? 

  • Is now the appropriate time to achieve this goal or is there a better time to execute? 

If we refer back to our example, I may ask myself if I have enough time to create a new company-wide program as a People Ops team of 1. While my intentions of designing and deploying this program are admirable, creating a new People program from scratch is time-consuming and will likely require support from other stakeholders across the company who may have critical projects of their own that will prevent them from investing time in my project. 

TIP: You should invite key stakeholders to review your goal objectives and assess whether they can be a viable resource for supporting the execution of your goal.


This component of goal setting seems like it should be a no-brainer but you’d be surprised at how many people don’t consider the short and long-term impacts of their goal on their specific job function, team, or organization. A portion of defining the relevancy of your goal is considering whether or not you should be focusing on your goal NOW, WHY and determining what the IMPACT will be. 

Returning to our example, I may need to jot down a few data points that support my decision to move forward with designing and deploying a new hire onboarding program. 

Example: Design and deploy a company-wide new hire onboarding program that decreases new hire attrition 15% within the new hire’s first 6 months of employment.

  • Data Point 1) Our recent Employee Engagement survey found that 70% of employees couldn’t list more than 2 of our 6 core values. 

  • Data Point 2) 8 out of 10 former employees surveyed during their Exit Interview stated that their manager did not meet with them during their first 30 days with the company to review their job duties or performance expectations. This contributed to their decision to leave the company within 6 months of their date of hire. 

TIP: Your goal is relevant when it aligns with your key job responsibilities, your team/departmental goals or your organization’s key business objectives. 


Good goals have target dates. The purpose of setting a target date is to guide your goal to successful and timely completion. A well-planned goal will include deadlines, dates and/or frequency. 

To finalize our example, I am going to add a rollout a time frame to my goal.

Example: Design and deploy a company-wide new hire onboarding program that decreases new hire attrition 15% within the new hire’s first 6 months of employment. Manager training on the new hire onboarding program will begin March 15th in preparation for a launch date of April 1st. 

TIP: Sometimes a goal will need to include specific checkpoints to help you assess how well you’re progressing. This allows for corrections or modifications to be made to meet the expectations defined by your desired end result. 

Creating an opportunity for team members to set and achieve SMART goals can be an incredibly powerful employee engagement and retention practice. From the perspective of the employee, being able to create and execute a goal produces a unique opportunity for the individual to contribute to the success of their organization. Seeing how your goal furthers an organization’s mission or a specific business objective instills a sense of professional pride and confidence among employees that increases their overall Employee Experience. For managers, taking the time to support their direct reports in achieving their goals can increase employee engagement, productivity, and overall performance as well as build a stronger bond between manager and team member. 

Alexandria’s People Operations mission of creating awesome Employee Experiences includes driving strategic human capital management, designing and deploying innovative People programs and championing culture, core values, and corporate objectives. An admitted data nerd, business partner, and employee advocate, Alexandria is VP of Employee Experience and People Operations at Code to the Future. Prior roles include building Human Resource programs and leading talent acquisition at if(we), BrightScope, buyautoparts.com, and Juicy Couture/Liz Claiborne.  

She has served on the Legislative Action Committee for the San Diego chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and can be found spending time on Capitol Hill with the SHRM A-Team and working with local legislators to improve the employer/employee experience for California businesses when she’s not wandering the world adventuring and exploring. 

Read more about Alexandria’s resourceful recruiting tips, HR strategic best practices, and funny HR-related anecdotes at thehrhacker.com and follow her general musings on Twitter.