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What are SMART goals and how to set them

Best practices to identifying and writing your biggest goals.
> What are SMART goals and how to set them

A flight plan to a pilot is like objectives to a CEO. Without objectives, a company is flying blind—struggling to find altitude and stay aloft.
In the OKR framework, objectives are the goals a company and its teams are working to achieve. Key results are the milestones to get there. And they should all be SMART.
What are SMART goals?
SMART is a tool to help set, write, and track your OKRs. SMART is an acronym that conveys the objectives of an organization into an achievable one: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely.
SMART brings structure to objectives through key results that are measured through the lens of a goal’s attainability. And the SMART goals system brings teams and companies closer to achievement by asking specific questions that are intended to get you there.
Where did SMART goals come from?
The genesis for SMART goals debuted in an authored by James Cunningham, George Doran, and Arthur Miller.
The first article published about SMART goals by George T. Doran.

Titled “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management goals and objectives,” this article was the first example of illustrating the challenges of running a multi-layered business and how establishing objectives was a critical component in improving and strengthening the management process. In that paper, Doran clarifies the SMART acronym came about because managers at the time were becoming confused by the overwhelming content about objectives from books, consultants, magazines, and seminars. Managers and supervisors could use SMART when they wrote their objectives.
While SMART incorporates five elements, Doran emphasized that you don’t need to use all of them. Not everything worth achieving is measurable. In fact, over the years, people have even added to the framework to get SMARTER—adding evaluated and reviewed to the mix to help focus on reflection and evaluation to the process.
How to set SMART goals and OKRs.
The best way to start writing your SMART goals is to ask questions — lots of them. Make sure to involve colleagues in the question process. The answers you receive will be critical to understanding if you are landing on goals that are doable.
When writing OKRs, it’s helpful to work through the SMART framework with your team. Here’s a breakdown of the framework and helpful questions to ensure you’re considering each component.
Is your goal specific?
SMART goals are specific and narrow so that it’s clear what you’re trying to achieve.
Framing questions
What is going to be accomplished?
What actions will you take to get you there?
💡Tip
When crafting objectives, use action verbs like these: analyze, apply, change, create, determine, identify, instigate, perform. Avoid ambiguous jargon and focus on actions.
Is your goal measurable?
SMART goals have clear metrics to ensure you are on track to hit your goals.
Framing questions
What data can you use to measure the goal?
Can you be sure that the change happened?
💡Tip
Consider these data types: amount produced, revenue generated, rate of productivity, customer satisfaction. And these data collection methodologies: audits, automated reports, test results, and surveys.
Is your goal attainable?
SMART goals can be achieved in a reasonable timeframe (e.g., one month or one quarter).
Framing question
Can you realistically tackle this goal?
💡Tip
Attainable goals should be about how to inspire and tap your team’s motivation.
Is your goal relevant?
Your team goals should align with your organization’s strategic and business objectives.
Framing questions
Does the goal match job role and function?
Does the goal map up to the purpose and strategy of a company
💡Tip
There should not be any factors that make these objectives impossible or unlikely.
Is your goal time-based?
There should be a specific end date for your goals so that your team can create a workback plan and prioritize tasks leading up to the end date.
Framing questions
How long will it take you to accomplish this goal? What is your time frame?
Deadlines help bring urgency to the team.

💡Tip
Sometimes, it helps to break down a goal into two parts so you can check-in on progress. If a goal will take two months, define what should be expected after the first month.

FAQs
What are SMART goals?
SMART goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.
Why are SMART goals important?
SMART goals help increase the odds of success by:
Outlining clear intentions to work instead of vague or ambiguous goals.
Providing clear and realistic objectives.
Removing unnecessary work.
Establishing a set beginning and a finish date.
Can SMART goals work in our personal lives?
This framework is perfect for students and those who are trying to figure out what they want to do with their career by helping focus efforts, clarify ideas, and use time wisely. In fact, if you have an agenda, a SMART goal with the OKR framework is perfect for personal goals.
“Most of mine have been around family. Now both daughters are off to school, but years ago I read and believed that having family dinners together was a key to having a happy family. So my key result was to get home for dinner by 6PM at least 20 nights a month, and be present, with our phones in another room. And that’s pretty hard to do. I was living in the 70% threshold is a good result — that would mean 14 or 15 nights a month. That’s an example of how OKRs can span any range of human activity. They’re transparent vessels that describe the “what” and the “how.” The values we pour into those vessels are the answers for the question, “Why?”
You may also like these OKRs resources:

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