SMART Goals Made Easy

Set your 2021 goals without stressing

Wendy Scott
Jan 16 · 7 min read
Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

It’s that time again. The goal setting for 2021 is raising its ugly head. You’ve barely had time to share your holiday pics on your phone and find out why Donna from Finance was let go, and your manager is talking KPI’s.

In my three decades of managing performance review processes, I’ve never met anyone that likes setting SMART goals. Not team members, not managers, not the MD.

And given the rubbish year that 2020 was, I can’t see anyone’s appetite for setting goals increasing. Why bother? After all, who knows what is round the corner after the year we’ve just had.

If your organization has a performance management process and wants goal setting done, you must do it. Or face the wrath of whatever poor soul is tasked with making sure you’ve done it.

For years, that poor soul was me.

If in your organization it is you, I found bribing people with chocolate worked well.

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” — C.S. Lewis

Why We Need Goals

There is much evidence to support goal setting, and Kath Kyle has collated a list of the findings plus links to the research papers.

The research showed that writing goals down will improve your likelihood of attaining them by twenty percent. The research also supports the benefits of setting challenging goals rather than easy ones: Ninety percent of people who set stretch goals achieve more. There is also evidence that goal clarity, reporting progress on goals, as well as receiving feedback, are indicators that goals will be achieved.

In summary, people perform better when they have relevant goals, write them down, understand the goal purpose, report back regularly to their superiors, and receive feedback.

Sounds a lot like SMART goals to me.

What is a SMART Goal?

Most people have heard of SMART goals, but not many can remember what all the letters stand for when put on the spot.

I don’t blame them. I can’t remember details about their jobs either. And if you only think about what a SMART goal is once a year, why would you remember?

When I training sessions, we usually get as far as 1) It’s an acronym, and 2) Specific is the first word. Then it all falls apart.

So if you want to impress your manager and your teammates, here it is:

S — Specific

M — Measurable

A — Achievable/Attainable

R — Relevant

T — Time-bound

But what does it all mean?

Specific — For each goal, put down exactly what you are going to do. No waffling, stick to the facts and put in plenty of detail. What is in, what is out, and how the finished product should look.


Not specific — Write a report about the training done in 2020.

Specific —Write a report including graphs and visuals, cost analysis, and review of the effectiveness of the training conducted in all business areas in 2020. Split your findings between male/female, and manager/non-manager. Make recommendations for improvements for 2021.

“Never quit. It is the easiest cop-out in the world. Set a goal and don’t quit until you attain it. When you do attain it, set another goal, and don’t quit until you reach it. Never quit.” — Bear Bryant

Measurable — This is how you show you’ve completed the goal. The previous example is measurable because you will either have done the report or not. You will have either included all that was asked for or not.

Examples of measurable goals are:

  • An increase in the sale of a product by 5%
  • A reduction in staff injuries by 10%
  • Produce 20 widgets per hour
  • Make the train go 10% faster
  • Cash register to balance
  • Design a system to track compliance to H&S legislation
  • Deliver customer service training to all customer-facing staff
  • Make 100 widgets
  • Paint the staff canteen

If you can prove you have completed the task, the goal is measurable. The training was delivered, or it wasn’t. The staff canteen was painted, or it wasn’t.

Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash

Achievable/Attainable: This means you must have the necessary skills and resources to achieve the goal. Skills could be certifications or qualifications, experience, physical strength, or academic suitability. For example, we do not ask a dentist to take out an appendix, a taxi driver to drive a train, or someone with no attention to detail to do the annual company accounts. Make sure you are confident that you have the skills required, if not, ask your manager for support or training.

To achieve a goal, you need the necessary resources which could be time, budget, equipment, systems, and access to people and information. When a goal is set, do a quick inventory on your resources. If there is something missing, start the process to attain the resources as soon as you can.

If the goal is not achievable because of a lack of skill or resources, it is not a SMART goal.

“It is not enough to take steps which may someday lead to a goal; each step must be itself a goal and a step likewise.” — Johann Wolfgang Von Goeth

Relevant — This is the one that most people get wrong. The answer I usually get when I ask what R stands for is reasonable. Relevant means that the goal is part of the bigger picture and contributes to the organization’s larger goals.

Goals should flow down from the top. The CEO or MD knows the business plan for the next 12–18 months, and the tasks are allocated to the executive team. The goals flow down the organization so that everyone is working to achieve the company’s main goals.

If the overarching business plan is not shared, managers and their teams are unaware of what is essential and what isn’t. This could lead to employees working towards goals that are not relevant.

In the example we used earlier, if reviewing the effectiveness of training is not on the business plan, then the goal is not SMART.

If you want to be really fancy you can map each of your goals to the business plan.

Write a report including graphs and visuals, cost analysis, and review of the effectiveness of the training conducted in all business areas in 2020. Split your findings between male/female, and manager/non-manager. Make recommendations for improvements for 2021. As per item 3.2.1 of the 2021 Organizational Business Plan.

Time-Bound — Yes, this one has to do with how much time you have to achieve your goal. No, you can’t put 31st December for every goal. That’s just silly. The reason SMART goals include a element of time planning is to analyse exactly what has to be done when. This means thinking about your capacity, resources, and other responsibilities.

For example, if you are on holiday for a month, you must complete certain components of your goal before you go. Or if one of your goals has a predetermined time frame, you must work the other goals around it.

Making goals time-bound helps you stay on track. If you split each goal into smaller steps, and give each step a time slot, you can make progress with several goals at the same time. Giving the the steps of each goal their own deadline also means you can arrange your workload to ensure it is manageable.

Write a report including graphs and visuals, cost analysis, and review of the effectiveness of the training conducted in all business areas in 2020. Split your findings between male/female, and manager/non-manager. Make recommendations for improvements for 2021.

For our example (above) we could add:

  • Gather all the data relevant to organizational training by 31st January
  • Prepare a first draft of the report by 14th February
  • Review draft report with your manager by 21st February
  • Create a final version of the report by 28th February

These additions make the goal time-bound. It also makes it more measurable as we can measure whether each step has been achieved by the time due.

“I never dreamed about success. I worked for it.” — Estee Lauder

Final Thoughts

If you don’t set SMART goals all the time, and you can’t remember the jargon, setting a SMART goal could seem daunting.

In reality, once you break down each step and apply common sense, it’s not that hard.

You and your manager agree on what you are going to do for the year and then write it down with some parameters. It’s as simple as that.

Make sure you have regular meetings or one-on-ones with your manager to keep track of your progress and highlight any resources you need.

Good Luck!


A Twin of ILLUMINATION — Two is better than one.

Thanks to The Startup

Wendy Scott

Written by

Brit in Auckland writing about leadership for new leaders, diversity, post divorce dating, and becoming a writer/entrepreneur. Warning: random humor included.


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