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What are SMART Objectives?

And how do you set them?

What are Smart Objectives?

And how do you set them?

SMART objectives (or goals) are those which use a well-known acronym to help us succeed in achieving them.

There’s quite a wide range of variations in the way SMART is defined, and here we outline one of the most popular. However, it’s not to be confused with our own take on SMART goals. In our article: Smart Goals – being both SMART and SHARP, we argue the importance of emphasising action in any goal setting activity

This is one of our Manage in a Minute pages. These contain essential tips on fundamental management topics. No fuss or side-tracks, they get straight to the point. Here, in a series of bullet points which can be read in a minute (ish!), is our discussion of SMART objectives.

What are SMART Objectives?

Too often we don’t spend enough time clarifying what we’re really aiming to do before we move to action. It’s all too easy to set objectives that are so general that we don’t know exactly what we’re trying to achieve, or whether we’ve achieved it.

A structured approach forces us to think more deeply and methodically about what we actually want. Perhaps the best known of these approaches is the SMART acronym. This is a practical, straightforward tool, which can be used for both professional and personal planning.

Help ensure that your objectives are more than just wishes by making sure they are SMART. That’s to say any objectives you set should be: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bounded. What exactly do we mean by this? Try looking at any objective you have set, or are thinking about setting. Ask yourself: “is this objective…”

  • Specific – is it clear what the objective is? Is it clear exactly what we mean?
  • Measurable – how will we know if we have achieved the objective? How will we measure our success?
  • Attainable/Achievable – is it possible to achieve this objective? What do we need in place to make it attainable?
  • Relevant/Realistic – is this objective one that we consider appropriate. Does it deliver wider priorities? Is it worth doing? Can we do it?
  • Time-bounded – by when are we going to achieve this? Setting a timescale provides focus and urgency, clarifying when you intend to achieve the objective. The objective has a deadline and is therefore more than just a wish!
How do you set SMART Objectives?
The first step is to use the specific, measurable and time-bounded criteria to write your objective, and then think through whether the objective is attainable and relevant by asking the questions suggested above. In doing so, try to use SMART language. SMART objectives are more than just wishes so try to ensure that you base them on verbs, especially those with a strong call to action. If your objective is to improve something, then start with that.


Here are some words which might help you define your objectives with a focus on action: reduce, improve, increase, eliminate, produce, install, write, develop, complete. For example:

  • Reduce the waiting time at a clinic by 10%, within 2 months;SMART Objectives
  • Increase the business turnover (sales) by 5%, by the end of the year;
  • Improve the number of improvement ideas implemented by (name of team or area), by 20% in the next three months;
  • Shorten the time to market for new products/services, by 20% by the end of the year.
  • Eliminate the number of customer complaints by 30% by the beginning of next year.

Remember that objectives are a call to action. They should result in a plan which details what you are going to do, and how you are going to specifically achieve your objective.

If you want to improve your chances of achieving your objectives, think about our take on SMART goals. Read our article: Smart Goals: Being Both SMART and SHARP to help you put the action in any goal setting activity

Or look at other detailed discussions in some of our related articles on the Goal Setting Knowledge Hub.

More benefits of goal setting

You can also find our more about the benefits of goal setting in our e-guide: SMART Goals, SHARP Goals to help you do just this. The guide contains 30 pages and 5 tools to help you to set SMART goals, then take SHARP action to achieve them.

  • How do you define goal setting?SMART Goals, SHARP Goals
  • What features of goal setting are important, if we want to ensure they are more likely to be successfully achieved?
  • What kinds of goals are more likely to make us motivated to achieve them?
  • How do you set SMART goals?
  • Why do goals matter?
  • What kind of goals should you pursue to be happier in what you do?
  • How do you set team goals?
  • What strategies can you apply to overcome barriers to setting goals?
  • How do you develop SHARP plans of action that help you to achieve your goals?
  • What techniques can you use to get things done?
  • How do you set personal goals?

Tool 1: Conventional goal setting
Tool 2: Setting SMART goals that motivate
Tool 3: The kind of goals that will make you happier
Tool 4: Taking SHARP action
Tool 5: Team goals flowchart
Tool 6: Eight personal goal setting questions

I am designing a new Management Development programme for my company and your Goal Setting guide has really helped.

I like the way you introduced material I haven’t seen before (SHARP action) & the tools to apply the learning. The price represents really good value for money and I will be checking out more of your material over the coming months.

Matthew - UK

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