Developing SMART Objectives

Developing SMART Objectives


Today, on my Facebook timeline there was a post about SMART Objectives from Paul DeBellis, the owner of Vibrant Video Productions (, a great local business and fellow member of the Lake Norman Small Business Network (LKNSBN), a Lake Norman (Huntersville, Cornelius, Denver, Mooresville area north of Charlotte, NC) area networking group.  He asked his friends and followers whether our goals were written down and whether they were SMART.  Paul is absolutely correct in the importance of having clear, written objectives and his post prompted me to expand on those thoughts.

At H3R (, we are huge proponents of SMART objectives and they are the core of any performance management program we put together for clients.  Instead of a performance review once each year that attempts to summarize performance, in a fair way, based on memory (and usually fails), managers and employees have a ‘live’ document and plan that they can refer to, update, and measure results against in real-time — in motorsports terms it is just like live telemetry or timing and scoring.  At year-end, the discussion is driven by actual performance results, with no surprises or disagreements, and can focus mostly on objective planning for the next year and the individual’s personal career development plan. 

Every organization needs to set objectives for itself in order to focus the company on specific aims over a period of time.  Typically, these company objectives are cascaded into department, team and finally individual employee goals and objectives.  This process aligns the tasks and responsibilities of each employee directly to overall company objectives, ensuring that employees are doing the things that they need to do for the company to be successful.  This alignment helps employees better understand the importance of their job and increases engagement and commitment.  When developing employee goals, it is important that they be clearly understood and structured so that the employee and their manager can measure and monitor success.  A very successful approach to developing objectives is the SMART method.

SMART objectives is an acronym that describes the key characteristics of meaningful objectives, which are:

S – Specific
M – Measurable
A – Attainable
R – Relevant
T – Time-based


Objectives should be specific; meaning concrete, detailed, focused and well defined.  Objectives need to specify what needs to be done to meet the desired outcome.  When setting specific objectives, consider:

  • WHAT needs to be done?
  • WHY is it important to do it?
  • WHO is going to do it?
  • WHEN does it need to be done?
  • HOW is it going to get done?


When objectives are measurable, progress can easily be mapped and roadblocks identified.  Further, when progress can be measured, it can be compared with competitors and other companies in the same field/market.  Measurable objectives can be very motivating to staff since they can see how far they come and have a clear view of their goal.  When setting measurable objectives, consider:

  • HOW will they be measured?
  • WHAT is the measurement source?
  • WHO will do the measuring?


Objectives need to be attainable.  If the objective is too far in the future or not reasonably achieved, staff will not be motivated. Objectives should challenge staff without frustrating them and causing unnecessary stress.  When setting attainable objectives, consider:

  • Can we get it done in the proposed timeframe?
  • Do we have the resources to reach the objective?
  • Do I understand the limitations and constraints?
  • Has anyone else done this successfully?


There should be a clearly understood link between the actions of an employee and the expected results.  When setting relevant objectives, consider:

  • Will this objective lead to the desired results?
  • Is this supporting team, department and company objectives?


Objectives should be time-based.  Time constraints encourage individuals to complete their tasks.  When objectives have deadlines, it is easier to organize what needs to happen and when.  When setting time-based objectives, consider:

  • When is the deadline for this objective?
  • When should each stage be completed?


Development Process

When developing SMART objectives, understand the basic/overall goal.  Consider the behavior and/or change in behavior required to meet this goal.  It is always helpful to ask the 5-W’s – what, why, when, who, where.  Also, ask yourself how this is going to be completed.

Next, decide how much change is needed.  Be specific in considering changes – use numbers, figures, and targets.  Use past experience as a guide for proactive problem solving.  For example, when implementing change in the past, what common barriers did you experience?  When developing SMART objectives, take on a preventative and proactive approach to avoid barriers.  Also, looking at past experiences will help to determine how much change is realistic.

Now that you have considered the desired behavior, link this to the overall goal to create concrete steps and processes to achieve it.  Once the steps have been laid out it will be easier to measure the progress of meeting the objectives.  Select indicators to measure and track progress such as time, percentages, numbers, etc.  Be sure to set your baseline or beginning point indicators to effectively measure progression.  Good indicators are:

  • Valid – they measure what they are supposed to measure.
  • Reliable – they produce similar results consistently when measuring the same thing.
  • Specific – they measure only the thing that they are supposed to measure.
  • Sensitive – they reflect changes, increases, decreases, and barriers in the status of the thing being measured.
  • Operational – they are measurable or quantifiable.

Once the baseline has been set and desired behaviors linked to the overall goal, SMART objectives can be developed effectively.

 Examples of ineffective objectives:

  • Decrease waste/scrap material.
  • Implement the company’s health and safety training course in the plant.
  • Increase production of white widgets to meet market demand.

 Examples of SMART objectives:

  • Reduce production waste/scrap material by 25% of current rate by March 31, 2017, as recorded by quality control and production reports.
  • Ensure that all production employees complete the company’s health and safety training course by February 28, 2017 and receive a grade of 75% or above on their health and safety quiz.
  • Increase production of white widgets from 800/hour to 1000/hour, maintaining current quality levels, by the end of second quarter, June 30, 2017.

Whether at the organization, department, team or individual level within a company, on your organizational business plan or your personal objectives, Paul was correct in that documenting them, and making them SMART, is a key contributor to success.

H3R Human Resources Services is a Lake Norman area Human Resources consulting and outsourcing business that specializes in supporting small business, non-profits, organizations involved in motorsports and financial services businesses.  We provide ongoing human resources support programs (outsourcing / managed services) and project-based assistance across the full spectrum of HR.  At H3R, your Best Practices Start Here.

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