Creating S.M.A.R.T. Goals

Submitted by Bill Shell, Legacy Market Services (Inner Circle Associate)

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Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely

Specific: The first term stresses the need for a specific goal over and against a more general one. This means the goal is clear and unambiguous; without vagaries and platitudes. To make goals specific, they must tell a team exactly what is expected, why is it important, who’s involved, where is it going to happen and which attributes are important. A specific goal has a much greater chance of being accomplished than a general goal. To set a specific goal you must answer the six “W” questions:

  • Who: Who is involved?
  • What: What do I want to accomplish?
  • Where: Identify a location.
  • When: Establish a time frame.
  • Which: Identify requirements and constraints.
  • Why: Specific reasons, purpose or benefits of accomplishing the goal.

EXAMPLE: A general goal would be, “Get in shape.” But a specific goal would say, “Join a health club and workout 3 days a week.”


Measurable: The second term stresses the need for concrete criteria for measuring progress toward the attainment of the goal. The thought behind this is that if a goal is not measurable, it is not possible to know whether a team is making progress toward successful completion. Measuring progress is supposed to help a team stay on track, reach its target dates, and experience the exhilaration of achievement that spurs it on to continued effort required to reach the ultimate goal.

Establish concrete criteria for measuring progress toward the attainment of each goal you set. When you measure your progress, you stay on track, reach your target dates, and experience the exhilaration of achievement that spurs you on to continued effort required to reach your goal.

To determine if your goal is measurable, ask questions such as……

  • How much?
  • How many?
  • How will I know when it is accomplished?

Attainable: The third term stresses the importance of goals that are realistic and attainable. While an attainable goal may stretch a team in order to achieve it, the goal is not extreme. That is, the goals are neither out of reach nor below standard performance, as these may be considered meaningless.

When you identify goals that are most important to you, you begin to figure out ways you can make them come true. You develop the attitudes, abilities, skills, and financial capacity to reach them. You begin seeing previously overlooked opportunities to bring yourself closer to the achievement of your goals.

  • You can attain most any goal you set when you plan your steps wisely and establish a time frame that allows you to carry out those steps.
  • Goals that may have seemed far away and out of reach eventually move closer and become attainable, not because your goals shrink, but because you grow and expand to match them.
  • When you list your goals you build your self-image. You see yourself as worthy of these goals, and develop the traits and personality that allow you to possess them.

Realistic (Relevant): The fourth term stresses the importance of choosing goals that are attainable and really matter. Realistic goals (when met) drive the team, department, and organization forward. A goal that supports or is in alignment with other goals would be considered a relevant goal. To be realistic, a goal must represent an objective toward which you are both willing and able to work. A goal can be both high and realistic; you are the only one who can decide just how high your goal should be. But be sure that every goal represents substantial progress.

A high goal is frequently easier to reach than a low one because a low goal exerts low motivational force. Some of the hardest jobs you ever accomplished actually seem easy simply because they were a labor of love.

R can also stand for Relevant and stresses the importance of choosing goals that matter. A Bank Manager’s goal to “Make 50 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches by 2:00pm.” may be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, and Timely, but lacks Relevance. Many times you will need support to accomplish a goal: resources, a champion voice, someone to knock down obstacles. Goals that are relevant to your boss, your team, your organization will receive that needed support.

Relevant goals (when met) drive the team, department, and organization forward. A goal that supports or is in alignment with other goals would be considered a relevant goal.

A relevant goal can answer yes to these questions:

  • Does this seem worthwhile?
  • Is this the right time?
  • Does this match our other efforts/needs?
  • Are you the right person?

Timely (Time-Bound): The fifth term stresses the importance of grounding goals within a time frame, giving them a target date. A commitment to a deadline helps a team focus their efforts on completion of the goal on or before the due date. This part of the S.M.A.R.T. goal criteria is intended to prevent goals from being overtaken by the day-to-day crises that invariably arise in an organization.

A time-bound goal is intended to establish a sense of urgency. A goal should be grounded within a time frame. With no time frame tied to it there’s no sense of urgency. If you want to lose 10 lbs, when do you want to lose it by? “Someday” won’t work. But if you anchor it within a timeframe, “by May 1st”, then you’ve set your unconscious mind into motion to begin working on the goal.

Your goal is probably realistic if you truly believe that it can be accomplished. Additional ways to know if your goal is realistic is to determine if you have accomplished anything similar in the past or ask yourself what conditions would have to exist to accomplish this goal.

A time-bound goal will usually answer the question:

  • When?
  • What can I do 6 months from now?
  • What can I do 6 weeks from now?
  • What can I do today?