Employee Goal Setting and SMART


By Irene Gloria Addison, Owner of HIREghana

The Goal-setting theory is one of the most practical theories of motivation and possibly the most influential one. This theory is supported by over 1,000 studies -with employees ranging from blue-collar workers to Research & Development employees- proving that setting goals is related to performance improvements. According to a 1988 study goal setting improves performance at least 10%–25% (Designing a goal-setting system to enhance performance: A practical guide in Organizational Dynamics, Volume 17, pages 69–78).

The SMART framework has become worldwide a popular means of focusing on performance at any level in any organization: individual (even personal) , team, departmental, project and institutional.

And the basic idea behind it, is to set goals that will improve your (or your team’s, department’s, etc.) goals.

It really boils down to answering the question:

“What measurable value am I creating in my job/role, and how does that contribute to my organization’s mission?”

Why Employee Goal Setting?

In any organizational setting (business or not), we do set goals in order to:

Align our efforts with the mission of our organization and/or specific corporate goals for a given Fiscal (or Calendar) Year.
Set up a clear and shared understanding of priorities with our manager(s).
Challenge ourselves not only to deliver on time, but also to grow and accomplish great things
Be able to measure progress in time, towards all desired targets and outcomes.
Implement a measure of organizational discipline that keeps everyone at every level focused on the same direction.
Keep employees engaged because employees know what is expected of them at work.
Allow accurate forecasting of all needed resources and foster the efficient use of those resources; thus, avoiding costly changes or stops in the organizational strategic direction
Some managers set specific goals for their employees (or volunteers if that is what is applicable). Others just simply ask for their subordinates/ team members, to create their own goals.

What is really important is that both you as a Manager and your Employees discuss the proposed goals and agree on them goals, and become jointly responsible for achieving them.

SMART’s History.

SMART has evolved from the Peter Drucker’s theories on ‘Management by Objectives’ (The Practice of Management, by P. F. Drucker, Harper Publishing, 1954)

The first published use of SMART as a goal- setting framework is attributed to George T. Doran, a management consultant who in November 1981 published a 2-page brief article titled: "There's a S.M.A.R.T. Way to Write Management's Goals and Objectives" (AMA Management Review, Vol. 70, Issue 11, pp. 35-36).

Management by Objectives is “the process of defining specific objectives within an organization that management can convey to organization members, then deciding on how to achieve each objective in sequence”. Given that, one might wonder why it took almost 30 years to come up with a model like SMART.

What is SMART all about?

Specific – target a specific area of goal setting or improvement.

Measurable – quantify or at least suggest an indicator (KPI) of achievable progress.

Assignable – specify who will do It, since SMART can be used also for team goal setting.

Realistic – here you need to clearly state what results could realistically be achieved, given all available resources at a given time period.

Time related – specify when the result/ the deliverables should be achieved.

SMART goals do draw upon established principles of good practice from goal-setting theory.

Is SMART misunderstood/ misused?

Well, possibly yes. If you google it, you will find plenty of experts and blog articles talking about the issues with the SMART approach to objectives/ goal setting.

In his article, Doran was very specific that the SMART “criteria don’t say that all objectives must be quantified on all levels of management. In certain situations, it is not realistic to attempt quantification, particularly in staff middle management positions. Practicing managers and corporations can lose the benefit of a more abstract objective in order to gain quantification. It is the combination of the objective and its action plan that is really important. Therefore, serious management should focus on these twins and not just the objective….  It should also be understood that the suggested acronym doesn’t mean that every objective written will have all five criteria.””

Basically, this obsession to quantify everything should be avoided; one can still observe and ‘measure’ qualitative improvements.

And, not all 5 criteria of SMART need to always be present in goal setting.

If one understand those 2 elements, then s/he can see that all negative criticism about SMART is rather irrelevant. Best Practices cannot apply to every organization and definitely not at different maturity levels of an organization.  Same is true with the SMART model/ framework.

And of course, you have others who correctly warn that merely making any goal SMART is no guarantee of success. True. Therefore, you should monitor progress and react accordingly. If you see SMART as a goal setting process, obviously, you can go to the next step, the one of process improvement.

Are there any SMART Variants?

Possibly to many. There are 3 ‘families’ of variants:

All those who use SMART as a mnemonic acronym but change what the letters stand for. E.g. S stands for Strategic, or M stands for Monitored, or A stands for Action-oriented or Aligned w/ corporate goals, or T stands for Testable or Trackable or Time/cost limited, etc.…
Those who are extensions of it with a minor add-on or twist. For example: SMARTER, where E stands for Evaluated and the final R stands for Reviewed
Finally, those based on SMART- e.g. the EXACT (EXciting Assessable Challenging Time-framed)


John Whitmore’s SMART, PURE and CLEAR, is possibly the only the most successful SMART variant. It came out (or most likely for it) of his GROW Performance Coaching Model:





But, as you can see, the GROW model starts/ assumes Goal Setting as its 1st Step.  So, he extended SMART as follows:


John Whitmore’s SMART, PURE and CLEAR Model / Framework


I will assume that all abbreviations are self- evident and clear, except the Positively stated one.

Positively stated is actually an ‘NLP Phrase’, meaning that you always should express what you are trying to achieve in a positive manner.  Simple example for an employee who is chronically late every morning: “I will be at work always on time”, instead of ”I will never be late again”. FYI: NLP stands for NeuroLinguistic Programming and the Programming part is based on the belief that we programme ourselves for success.

Btw, goals that are recorded have a much greater chance of being successfully completed

Tips for Implementing Goal Setting for Employees

Goals must align with the corporate mission and strategic objective for the given time period (quarter, year, etc.).
Work with employees to set goals
Employees must understand how their goals/ KPIs contribute to the above.
Use SMART but train both Employees and Managers on How-to use it.
Whether you use SMART or one its variants, stick with it and avoid all confusion by finetuning that chosen framework.
Goals must be clear and easy to understand by all parties.
They also must be mutually agreed / accepted and clearly communicated to employees
Make sure that every employee has both personal, team and departmental goals.
Progress towards goals must be measurable and evaluated frequently (e.g. every quarter).
Don’t change the goals halfway through the time period. 
Goals must have clear beginning, intermediate and ending points with relevant milestones.
Have separate goals for normal job performance and for outstanding one/ bonuses. (example is: the goal is reached 100% if this and that is achieved and 120% if those things are achieved too)
All goals/ KPIs should be challenging, but realistically achievable.
Any SMART framework should also be supported by rewards.
Link Individual Recognition the with the Rewards.
Set Consistent Goals for Employees with similar responsibilities.
Review goal outcomes regularly and Record and share progress
Work closely with and support Employees who fall short of the mark
Besides performance goals, set also Developmental Goals for every Employee/ Team/ Department/ Business Unit.
Create an Organizational Culture where both Managers and Employees become jointly responsible for achieving Employee- Goals!

Golden Tip: Don’t use Generic Goal / KPI statements- Break them down by tasks and or accomplishments and how they are measured and in what percentage they contribute to the targeted / desired goal/ outcome. Define when and how they will be monitored and evaluated.


So, for Example if the Goal/ KPI is to achieve Sales of 100k Cedis, the goal / KPI should split like this

**32k from Product 1 in 8 months

--25% complete if Achieved if 8k sales done in 2 months

--50% complete if Achieved if 16k sales done in 4 months

--75% complete if Achieved if 24k sales done in 6 months

--100% complete if Achieved if 32k sales done in 8 months

--125% complete if Achieved if 40k sales done in 8 months

**68k from Product 2 in 12 months

--25% complete if Achieved if 17k sales done in 4 months

….etc – basically same as above

In Conclusion

Despite all of its critics, the SMART approach has really changed -worldwide- the way we set and measure goals. Its immense popularity is possibly due to its simplicity and its popularity it still continues to grow.

Obviously, well thought out goals -whether personal or business ones- and objectives help us achieve the best possible results. SMART helps us make all goals a reality and not another unfulfilled New Year’s resolution (sounds too familiar?).

Employees who have clear understanding of their goals, are usually able to relate better with the organizational goals and are usually more Engaged Employees.  And that will keep your organization competitive in both the business marketplace and the employee job- market.

George T. Doran, wherever you are, thank you for giving us an efficient means of organizing our efforts around our goals and achieving them!

Thank you and Good Luck with your SMART effectiveness!


About the Author: Irene Gloria Addison is the owner of HIREghana [Human Intelligence Recruitment], a Leader Ghanaian Recruitment Agency and also a HRM & Organizational Development Consultancy, based in Accra.

Irene welcomes your feedback/ comments/ remarks/ suggestions via your email message to Press@HIREgh.com. HIREghana can be reached at +233 50 228 5155 or +233 266 555 907

Our website is http://www.hiregh.com 

© 2017 Irene Gloria Addison and © 2017 Human Intelligence Recruitment

Author's Bio: 

About the Author: Irene Gloria Addison is the owner of HIREghana [Human Intelligence Recruitment], a Leader Ghanaian Recruitment Agency and also a HRM & Organizational Development Consultancy, based in Accra.

Irene welcomes your feedback/ comments/ remarks/ suggestions via your email message to Press@HIREgh.com. HIREghana can be reached at +233 50 228 5155 or +233 266 555 907

Our website is http://www.hiregh.com 

© 2017 Irene Gloria Addison and © 2017 Human Intelligence Recruitment