The Secret Guide To SMART Goals

You arrived on this page because you need to set a goal. Somehow, somewhere, you heard about the S.M.A.R.T. Goal method. You want to know everything about it. You want to set goals and achieve them. Well, I have one word for you:


Now you’re asking yourself, “STOP, what do you mean by STOP?” Well, I am telling you to stop because the S.M.A.R.T. method is for organizations.

But, but, but <– probably what you are thinking right now.

Yes, they are. In this blog post, I will explain why. If you want to set personal goals, check out my article, [article name].

Otherwise, if you are in management or want to be in administration, stick around because this is a good read. Just a heads up, it’s quite long too because I go over everything, and I mean everything.

If you don’t believe me, check out the quick navigation below.

What is the SMART Goal Method?

The SMART Goal method is one of the many goal-setting systems that someone will tell you that you need to follow. You have to follow this method to set the perfect goal. It was first written about in 1981 by a man named Geroge Doran. 

Doran wasn’t your average guru on the Internet trying to develop an acronym to sound smart. He was the president of the Management Assistance Programs. Doran was also Washington Water Power Company Spokane’s former Director of Corporate Planning. So, he knew his stuff (or so we hope).

Doran published, ‘There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management’s goals and objectives.’ The name of the academic journal where you can find these articles is Management Review. The article’s purpose is to help managers establish objectives and develop action plans. 

Doran wrote the journal article for corporate and department managers. Due to the Internet, the S.M.A.R.T. Goal setting method has recently gained mainstream popularity. 

Based on his experience, Doran suggests executive managers should distinguish goals and objectives. Doran believed that:

Goals represent unique executive goals and philosophies…Objectives, on the other hand, give quantitative support and expression to management’s beliefs.

– George Doran

Today, we commonly call SMART objectives by the more popular term SMART Goals. Many articles on the Internet use the phrase interchangeably.

Surprisingly, the SMART acronym applies to only objectives. We now weirdly apply this acronym to our goals. Not corporate goals, all goals. To keep thongs less insane for you, I will use the term S.M.A.R.T. goals throughout this blog post.

What does S.M.A.R.T. Mean?

There are two variations of the acronym. These are Doran’s original and the outlier versions by writers who want to be unique and confuse us. 

If you do a simple Google search for the S.M.A.R.T. goal acronym, each first-page result will have a different definition. After you read the first three, you won’t understand the SMART acronym’s meaning.

Does everyone have to be original these days? Including the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services? They present a different definition in ‘Goal Setting Using the SMART Acronym.’ 

Even worse, colleges are teaching different versions of the SMART acronym. The ‘S.M.A.R.T. Objectives‘ page on Wayne State University’s website is different from the ‘SMART Goals: A How to Guide.’ created by the University of California’s Human Resources Department. 

The different variations of the SMART acronym can be confusing. Professor Robert S Rubin from St. Louis University wrote, ‘Will the Real SMART Goals Please Stand Up?‘. His paper addresses the confusion with SMART Goals.

To keep things simple, I will give you the original SMART acronym.

The original acronym coined by Doran is:

  • Specific – target a specific area for improvement.
  • Measurable – quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress.
  • Assignable – specify who will do it.
  • Realistic – state the results that can realistically be achieved, given available resources.
  • Time-related – specify when the result(s) can be achieved.

Doran’s model vastly differs from the many popular Internet acronyms. It differs because he was trying to help corporate managers create better objectives. He wasn’t writing for the everyday person who wants to set a goal.

Why Are SMART Goals Important?

I will give you a technical explanation of why SMART Goals are essential. Before I do that, I want to provide you with a legitimate reason. 

Your boss heard the term SMART Goals in passing. Your boss then thought to him or herself, “We need to implement that in our organization.”

The next thing you know, your boss comes to your desk and says, “We need to set SMART Goals.” You look at him with a big question mark on your face, then change it into a slight smile. You might have thought, “SMART Goals? Sounds dumb.”

Okay, you probably aren’t that person. You are probably the person who looked up S.M.A.R.T. goals online. You then planned on being proactive by bringing this concept to your boss.

Either way, we view SMART Goals as necessary. They are only essential because someone more important than us views them as such. 

Now the question remains, are SMART Goals fundamental? Yes and no. SMART Goals are one of the many methods used to set objectives within an organization. In reality, SMART Goals’ importance depends on the type of management implementing them.

If your organization implements SMART Goals, then they are essential. If your organization sets a bunch of SMART Goals and ignores them, they are not necessary.

Should I Set SMART Goals?

Not everyone within an organization should set SMART Goals. Doran designed SMART Goals for the corporate, department, and section levels. The SMART Goals method bridges the communication gap between managers and executives.

Only corporate officers, managers, and supervisors should set SMART Goals. If you are not in management, you shouldn’t be setting SMART Goals.

In reality, managers sometimes pass on such mundane tasks to their subordinates. If you are not in management and have to write SMART Goals, write them through a manager’s lens. 

How Do I Write a SMART Goal?

Before you even start writing your first SMART Goal, there are two things you must realize. Well, more than realize, drill these things into your brain.

  1. SMART Goals don’t always need to be quantifiable – especially in mid-level management. In these instances, you can get away with S.A.R.T. goals.
  2. Always combine SMART Goals with an action plan – if you don’t plan to take action on a goal, don’t write it.

Now that you have drilled those two things into your brain, I will go over each part of the SMART acronym.

S for Specific – target a specific area for improvement

When writing your S, determine what is specific for you. Ask yourself the following two questions:

  1. What problem do I need to solve in my department?
  2. Do we need to improve, make, increase, reduce, or save something? Or do we need to develop someone?
  3. What do we need to improve, make, increase, reduce, or save, or who do we need to develop?

M for Measurable – quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress.

When writing your M, remember the first thing I told you to drill into your brain. In case you already forgot, you don’t need to measure every objective. Before you set your M in stone, ask yourself these three questions:

  1. Can I measure what I wrote for specific?
  2. If so, how will I measure it?
  3. What level of progress do I want my department to achieve?

A for Assignable – specify who will do it.

Now you need to decide who or whom in your department will complete the objective. Don’t be the manager that pushes your objective off on your administrative assistant. 

Be mindful of who will have the responsibility to complete these objectives. Make sure the person you assign has the right qualifications. To better understand who that person is, put yourself in this scenario.

You have a single egg. Once the egg hatches, the animal inside will sell for 1 million dollars. Now, no one can drop this egg, and it must be adequately cared for to hatch. Who will take care of the egg?

Think of the egg as your objective. If no one around you can care for the egg, your first objective should be to find someone who can.

R for Realistic – state the results you can achieve, given available resources.

As you set your SMART Goal, you need to evaluate your department’s resources. Evaluate your objective based on:

  • Time
  • Human resources
  • Budget
  • Technology
  • Real Estate
  • Company policies
  • Laws and Regulations

Your SMART Goal should be conservative. It is something your department can realistically achieve with effort.

The last step is probably the easiest one but the most important. Just set a deadline. SMART Goals are short-term objectives. Make sure the deadline you pick isn’t 500 years in the future. 

Before picking the date:

  1. Check your work calendar for holidays, conferences, company retreats, etc.
  2. Remember, the deadline is set in stone.
  3. For accurate results, do not change the deadline.

Picking the best date is very important.

Now that I have explained each part of the SMART Goal, I want to break down a SMART Goal for you. This way, you will have an idea of how to formulate your own SMART Goal. The example I am using is actually from Doran’s article.

To develop and implement by December 31, 198_ an inventory system that will reduce inventory costs by 1 million, with a cost not to exceed 200 work hours and $15,000 out-of-pocket expenditures. 

Now for the best part. I will now apply each piece of Doran’s objective to the SMART Goal acronym.

S – inventory

M – inventory costs

A – although he doesn’t expressly state who is responsible for the goal, someone can assign it.

R – reduce inventory costs by 1 million by using 200 work hours on a budget of $15,000

T – December 31, 1980 (changed the year to 1980 for more clarity)

Do you understand simple but complicated it can be to create a SMART Goal for your department? If you don’t, that’s okay. I have a simple template you can follow based on the above example.

To develop and implement by (date) a(n) (specific thing) that will (improve, make, increase, reduce, save, develop someone) by (amount if necessary), with a cost not to exceed (amount) work hours and $(amount) out-of-pocket expenditures.

You do not have to follow this template strictly. It is a way to get you started on creating your SMART Goals. Don’t worry, though. In the next section, I have scenarios and examples to help you better understand.

What are Some SMART Goal Examples?

Okay, here are six scenarios to get you thinking of how you will write SMART Goals for your department. Before you read the answer to each situation, think about the SMART Goals you would implement.

As you go through each of these scenarios, you will improve your understanding of SMART Goals. Use these exercises to think about what you can improve within your organization.

Scenario 1 – Hospital Medical Records Department

You are the manager of the medical records department at a large hospital. You notice the medical records have missing and incomplete information. The checks and balances put into place are not producing the best results.

Another manager’s solution is to improve the awareness of medical record integrity. He wants to create a checklist for medical staff to complete. The medical team will complete the list before finalizing the medical records.

To develop and implement, by March 30, 2020, a medical record completion checklist that will improve medical record integrity awareness, with a cost not to exceed 40 work hours and $5000 out-of-pocket expenditures.

This goal is a S.A.R.T. goal rather than a SMART Goal. The reason it is a S.A.R.T. goal is that you cannot quantify the awareness.

Scenario 2 – University Biology Department

You are the manager of the biology department at a local university. The department needs to bring in new students to its graduate degree programs. It agrees social media marketing is the best way to attract students.

The solution another manager came up with is to run advertisements on social media.

To develop and implement by October 9, 2020, a social media ad campaign that will generate 10 new graduate degree program students, with a cost not exceeding 1000 work hours and $100,000 out-of-pocket expenditures.

Scenario 3 – Car Dealership Sales Department

You are the manager of the sales department at a large car dealership. You begin to notice that employees are quitting after an average of 7 months. It would be more beneficial to the company if employees remained for two years.

Another manager suggested the company implement an incentive program.

To develop and implement, by September 30, 2020, an employee incentive program that will increase employee retention to an average of two years, with a cost not to exceed 500 work hours and $30,000 out-of-pocket expenditures.

How Do I Accomplish a SMART Goal?

SMART Goals need an action plan for success. Without an action plan, there is no clear path for accomplishing your SMART Goals. Think of action plans as the treasure map. The SMART Goal is the compass. It points you in the right direction, but the treasure map tells you where to go.

It isn’t that your department accomplishes the actual SMART Goals. It’s about learning how your department fits into the organization. Then, communicating this to executives. 

Even if your department achieves its SMART Goals, you will only feel satisfied if they were right. If your SMART Goals were terrible, you would feel happy if you did not complete them.

The likelihood of accomplishing a SMART Goal depends on the goal. If your department sets the right one, it will achieve its objectives. You can determine if it is the right goal by conducting research.

The better you get at each part of the SMART acronym, the more likely you will achieve the objective.

What are Common Mistakes with SMART Goals?

If you create the S.M.A.R.T. goals as I described so far, you should not run into any mistakes with the actual objectives. Management mistakes occur during the creation and implementation process.

Here are three of the most significant errors:

  • Too many SMART Goals – Sometimes, managers get overzealous. They create too many objectives that overlap.
  • SMART Goals don’t fit into the organization’s goals – The objectives become a to-do list. They aren’t a strategy to communicate the department’s role within the organization.
  • Not using an action plan – If your department is not going to use an action plan, there is no point in setting the goal.

I won’t give a number range of SMART Goals a department needs to set. There are too many factors involved. Each department should choose at least one SMART Goal. Then it should concentrate on as many as necessary. It should convey how it will better achieve its purpose within the organization. 

The department should follow up the SMART Goals with action plans. Action plans communicate progress to executives.

What are the benefits and drawbacks of SMART Goals?

There are several benefits to implementing SMART Goals. The three main benefits all organizations will experience are:

  1. Optimization Within the Organization 

You will know how your department fits into the organization. It also allows executives to see how the different departments function together. 

Think of your organization as a body. Your department might be the liver. SMART Goals allow your department to be the most optimized liver; it can be within the body. 

2. Open Lines of Communication

The most significant benefit is better communication between department managers and executives. Managers are no longer speaking Greek, while executives are speaking French.

3. Define What is Important

Another considerable benefit of SMART Goals is they create motion within a department. SMART Goals push the department’s to-do list into objectives tied to its purpose. They drive managers to evaluate if something is important and why it is crucial.

The downsides mentioned related to the SMART Goal method do not use the original acronym. Nor do they take its original purpose into account. Also, these downsides do not take into account how a manager would apply SMART Goals.

Even then, the SMART Goal method is not perfect. There are two huge disadvantages to using SMART Goals. These include:

1. Focusing Too Much on Performance

As a manager, you have to keep yourself from getting lazy. You might begin to set SMART Goals that are too easily obtainable or goals that don’t matter. 

You may also get too aggressive and try to stretch your department’s resources. Your priorities then switch from purpose to performance. 

I know it’s nice to show executives reports where your department hits all of its objectives. As a manager, you must think of what is beyond your department. Are you contributing to the organization’s goals?

2. Focusing Too Much on Setting the Right SMART Goal

You may be reluctant to set a goal because you don’t know if it is the right goal to solve your department’s problem. You might also be hesitant because you don’t know if you should solve the problem now.

Research the solutions to your department’s pain-points. As you gain more experience, you will set more effective objectives. You will not be correct 100% of the time.

How Can I Improve My SMART Goals?

The best way to improve SMART Goals is to set them and implement them into an action plan. Then, after the deadline of the goal, go back, and review. Determine where you can make improvements. It doesn’t depend on if the department achieves its goal.

After you set a few SMART Goals, you will get better at the process. As a manager, you will get better at: 

  • determining your department’s needs, 
  • how your department’s needs fit within your organization, 
  • and how you will communicate this to executives.

What are some SMART Goal Alternatives?

Most of the alternatives to SMART Goals are junk. They are more generalized ways of setting goals. They would be detrimental to use within an organization. 

Many SMART Goal alternatives try to be the improved version of the internet version of SMART. These include SMARTER, S.M.A.A.R.T., or any other combinations of all the internet versions of SMART.

Newer goal-setting methods such as CLEAR, PURE, PACT, etc., are trendy. They try to build their success from the SMART Goal method’s popularity.

 Key performance indicators (KPIs) and Objective Key Results (O.R.K.s) are real alternatives. These are realistic alternatives because of their application.


Wow, that was a long read. You made it to the end. I know we covered a lot, and I wanted to thank you again for taking the time to read this blog post. We don’t have to end our journey together here.

By Deborah

Deborah is the main content writer at Lazy Jack. She enjoys being a productivity master, being a cat mom, and making new discoveries.