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Create better employee performance goals with the “SMART” process


Goal-setting is a critical part of the performance review process. But unrealistic or vague goals can frustrate employees, killing their motivation and productivity.

Goals should be written so they’re specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely (SMART). Using SMART performance goals leaves little to the imagination and provides clear communication between employees and supervisors.

What are SMART performance goals?

SMART performance goals are those that are:

Specific – It includes the who, what, when, where and how.
Measurable – A numeric or descriptive measure that defines quantity, quality, cost, etc.
Achievable – A goal that is within the employees’ control and influence.
Relevant – A goal that is important to the mission of the department and company.
Timely – A target date for completion or frequency of specific action steps that are important for achieving the goal.

General, broad goals can fade over the course of the year. Why? They’re weak. There’s no driving force behind them.

SMART performance goals force employees not only to consider what the goal is, but also to define success, how to achieve it, and how it will play into the business as a whole.

For example, a general employee goal might be “to sell more.” This leaves a lot of room for interpretation. What’s considered “more”? What’s the time frame? How will he accomplish this?

In contrast, if your employee followed the SMART goal method, his goal would be, “Every day I will visit five new businesses within ABC County with the objective of signing on 10 more XYZ accounts by Jan. 1.”

Here, the expectations are clear and there are measurable details that the employee can be held accountable for.

Here are three ways SMART goals can benefit your employees and your business:

1. Create clear lines of communication

With SMART performance goals, you and your employees can lay out all the details so you’re always on the same page. That way, when it comes to conducting a performance review, there are no surprises and neither party can say, “I didn’t know.”

2. Make a measurable difference

General goals are subjective, not measurable, making it difficult to evaluate employees’ work. Objective goals are black and white. You either achieve them or not. SMART performance goals have a straightforward formula for setting well-defined goals that include measurable details so you can easily evaluate and track your employees’ progress and performance.

3. Achieve company and department goals

While setting individual goals may motivate employees, they need to consider the bigger picture for their goals to make a real impact. If employees’ and managers’ goals are properly aligned with the overall company or department objectives for the year, the company is more likely to flourish. The SMART performance goals method helps make that happen by pushing employees to create individual goals that contribute to the overall success of your business.

Be a SMART coach

During the performance review process, you may be tempted to write your employees’ SMART performance goals for them. Don’t.

The manager’s job in the review process is to be a coach. Guide employees to set appropriate goals following the SMART method. Then review the goals and ensure they’re appropriate, reasonable, achievable, and aligned with company objectives.”

Employees will be much more motivated to meet a goal that they create versus one they’re tasked with. And the SMART method provides an easy-to-follow formula that everyone can use.

Looking for more pointers on how to set SMART expectations for your employees? Download our free e-book, How to develop a top-notch workforce that will accelerate your business.