Guide: Learn how to set SMART goals

Why goals matter and how we can all set set SMARTer goals

Product builder, Founder of Oneteam
“Put a man on the moon and return him safely by the end of the decade.”

This was John F. Kennedy’s famous goal for the NASA team in 1961. At the time, US was losing the “space race” against the Soviet Union.

Looking back, this is probably the best goal ever created. Concrete, memorable, measurable & simple. Even surprising for most at the time.

What did this goal achieve?

The rest is history. US beat the Soviet Union to the goal and Neil Armstrong became the first person to ever set foot on the moon in June, 1969.

What can we learn from this?

Setting goals and objectives is crucial. It helps us focus. It helps us say no to less important things. And it helps us change tactics when something is not working.

Here’s what we’re going to answer in this guide:

  1. Why setting business goals is crucial?
  2. How can I apply goals in my work?
  3. How do I set SMART goals?
  4. Where does the SMART goals method come from?
  5. Why do SMART goals work so well?
  6. Why are we intuitively bad at setting goals?
  7. What happens when you set clear SMART goals?
  8. How can goal setting fail?
  9. How can I take SMART goals even further?

Why setting business goals is crucial?

Many times people say: “Jakob, I want to start setting goals. But how do I make sure to craft good goals?”

It’s a surprisingly great question.

Even though an average person now spends more than 14 years in the education system, we’re rarely thought about how to set good goals. That’s crazy!

Setting goals is the foundation to the actual craft of work. Sure, we can easily work without goals. But the outcome of that work might end up being completely useless.

If you want people to take action on the data that they're collecting, give them goals. SMART goals will lead to meaningful actions.

— Vala Afshar (@ValaAfshar) May 15, 2015

On top of it all, if we know that a modern company spends 80% of money on salaries - we better make sure we’re all working on the right stuff at the right time.

How can I apply goals in my work?

Always start small.

There are many sophisticated goals setting frameworks out there. OKRs for example.

But I would advise you to just start small instead. Set and write down one to three goals each week.

Then, at the end of each week, do a follow-up to see what you actually achieved. Without a follow-up, every goal setting system fails. Once you’ve mastered this, move on to the more complex goals systems.

How do I set SMART goals?

SMART goals is an acronym, which stands for:

And that’s it. Simple, isn't it?

Let's look at Kennedy’s moon goal through the SMART prism:

Just in case you'd like to read more about the moon landing project - this article does a pretty good job at it.

Where does the SMART goals method come from?

SMART goals are more than 35 years old technique for setting better goals. The acronym first appeared in November 1981 issue of Management Review, authored by George T. Doran.

Why do SMART goals work so well?

While the method seems simple, it leverages a lot of powerful psychology tricks behind the scenes.

Let’s look, for example, at the recent study done by Dr. Gail Matthews at Dominican University. Her research proved that if we write down clear goals (in comparison to just thinking about them) we are 50% more likely to actually accomplish them.

Why are we intuitively bad at setting goals?

This is perhaps the most intriguing question. We all know that goals are important and perhaps crucial to success both in business and personal life. Yet, at the same time, we are really bad at setting goals for ourselves and for our teams.

What happens? Why this stark contrast?

Well, let’s think about it. Well written goals are intuitively controversial because:

What happens when you set clear SMART goals?

How can goal setting fail?

Setting goals tends to fail when we don’t follow up on the goals. Meaning when we don’t systematically compare goals with what has actually been achieved.

Here’s a trick to help you with follow-ups

If you have a monthly goal, check your progress toward the goal on a weekly basis. This way you can adjust the tactics and tasks that are contributing to the goal prior to failing to reach the goal.

This also has a positive side-effect: it pushes the whole team to collaboratively find a solution or tweak the plan instead of pointing fingers at each other at the end.

How can I take SMART goals even further?

Once you’ve mastered the method of setting SMART goals, you can very easily upgrade with a framework called PPPs (Progress, Plans, Problems).

This framework simply tells you to set up to three weekly goals (Plans), report on them (Progress) and make any external bottlenecks very obvious (Problems).

About Oneteam: Oneteam helps your team focus on what matters. It enables your team to set weekly goals and see everyone's progress. All in Slack. Check it out →