Goal setting is a powerful tool through which to improve motivation and performance. SMART Goals are particularly helpful. SMART stands for: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-based.

Summary by The World of Work Project


Einstein. He probably had SMART Goals.
Did this smart man have SMART goals?

There are several different frameworks that help determine what makes an effective goal, of which SMART is probably the most well known. There are many different variation of the model in existence, but in our version SMART stands for: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-based.

Though SMART is perhaps the most well known of the models on goal setting, we also recommend reading up on Lock and Latham’s theory of goal setting.


For goals to be effective they need to focus on specific areas of performance or improvement. If, instead, they relate to general or complex areas, then they are less effective.

For example, while a goal to build a satellite can be highly motivating, it is much less effective than a goal to produce 1,000 high quality screws each month at providing directional clarity. Motivation is only helpful if you know how to apply your energy, and specific goals can help with this.


Effective goals must be measurable, which means they must be quantifiable to some extent, or at least indicative of progress.

Doing a “great job” isn’t a helpful goal as it isn’t measurable. IT’s impossible for anyone to know if that’s goal’s been achieved. However, if we define a “great job” as making sales and achieving a specific margin, then we get closer to creating a helpful set of goals.

To be effective goals need to be measurable.


To be motivating and effective goals must be in the reach of individuals. If a goal is impossible to achieve, then it ceases to be motivating. Similarly, if a goal is too easy then it will not be motivating as there will be no sense of accomplishment when it is achieved.

To be effective goals need to be in the Goldilocks space where they are neither too easy nor too hard, but just right instead.


It might sound obvious, but for a goal to be helpful it needs to be relevant to the overall objectives of an organization or the role of the individual it relates to.

Time based goals are more effective.


Open ended goals are not motivating and do not improve performance.

For goals to be motivating they need to include a dimension of time in which they should be achieved.

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What else can SMART stand for?

The original article that introduced the SMART. referred to goals that were: Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic and Time-related.

Other variations of the model include a wide range of words, some of which are: Strategic, Motivating, Agreed, Achievable, Ambitious, Resourced, Results-based, Trackable, Timely and Testable.

Learning More

There are lots of different types of goals. Watch out for common mistakes of goal setting. Locke and Latham’s Goal Setting Theory is worth a read, and Zig Ziglar’s goal setting tips might be of interest.

We know that goal setting in important for management and leadership and can help improve motivation. But it can also play a big role in behavior change. It applies to intentional changes such as those described in the behavior change wheel, and more personal changes like those described in the transtheoretical model. You can learn more about behavior change in our podcast on the topic:

The World of Work Project View

SMART is a simple and helpful framework that’s a great point of reference to use when you are designing goals. Whichever variant of SMART you choose to use, you’ll end up with a fairly helpful framework.

Our view is that in many instances, organizations and leaders fail to put appropriate time and effort into goal setting. When this is the case, it doesn’t matter what model you use, you simply don’t have time and consequently will end up with unhelpful goals.

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This post is based on work originally produced by George Doran and published in a paper titled “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management’s goals and objectives”. You can access the article here.

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