SMART Goal Setting: The Ultimate How-to Guide for New Managers

Are you a new manager looking for a goal setting process that motivates your team and helps them create a habit of success? SMART goal setting is it and THIS is your guide.


If you’re a new manager looking for a goal setting process that motivates your team and helps them make a habit of success, SMART goal setting is it.

Highly effective – and wholly under-used – it’s a practical, actionable management strategy for achieving goals in a way that makes you standout.

In this post, we'll do the following: 

  • spell out the SMART goal setting process, 
  • explore a series of ‘check-in’ questions you can use to vet your goal ideas against the SMART goal criteria, and
  • have a look at three SMART goals examples for work.

In a pinch for time today? Bookmark this article so you can read it in full at another time, then use the Table of Contents below to quickly navigate to any section.

Ready? Let’s go!

SMART Goal Setting Basics: Spelling it Out

SMART Goal Setting Basics: "S" is for Specific

The devil is in the details and, as it turns out, so is success.

You can significantly increase your team’s likelihood of reaching milestones and achieving goals by getting specific, nay, explicit with your goals. For example, it’s not enough for your business unit to set a goal of generating $1 million.

What’s wrong with generating $1 million?

As-is, this million-dollar goal is missing key details that, if left undefined, can mean the difference between pulling down a team win or collectively falling short of the finish line. This lack of detail takes control over success out of your team’s hands and puts it squarely in the eye of the beholder (like your boss or your boss’ boss). Here’s what I mean:

If your team was talking about $1 million in sales revenue, but your boss thought you meant gross profit, hitting $1 million in sales revenue isn’t a success.

If your team envisioned having the next twelve months to generate $1 million, but your boss’ boss understood it as a next quarter goal, $1 million over the next twelve months won’t be a success.

How to make this goal SMARTer?

A more specific goal, one that gives your team the detail and direction it needs to be successful and everyone else a clear understanding of what “success” is will address these details upfront. In addition, it will reference the main strategy your team will use to achieve the goal.

Let’s take a look at our goal again, this time with the “specifics” nailed down:

Our business unit will generate $1 million in sales revenue over the next twelve months by launching an up-sell service for existing customers.

The devil is in the details and, as it turns out, so is success. Read this to make sure your work goals are specific enough – and meet the four other SMART goal criteria.

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How do you know if your goal is "Specific" enough?

Want to know whether a goal your team has in mind is specific enough?

Run it through the set of four questions below. If your team has definitive answer for each of them, then that goal meets the first SMART goal criteria of “Specific”.

1. Which units are we measuring the goal in? 

Examples include: sales dollars, number of accounts, number of units sold, cost of goods, new subscriber sign-ups, etc.

2. By how much do we want those units to change?

Referencing the units identified in the previous question, what’s the desired change? Examples include:

- increase in sales dollars of $1 million

- open 5 new additional wholesale accounts

- sell 10,000 units

- decrease cost of goods by $0.50 per unit

- secure 1,000 new subscriber sign ups.

3. What is the deadline for achieving this goal? 

How much time is the team allowing to achieve this goal? In other words, when will the measuring tape be pulled out? One month from now? 90 days? One year?

4. Where will we focus our efforts to achieve the goal?

This is a quick reference to how your team plans to move the units listed in Question 1, by the increment listed in Question 2, over the period of time detailed in Question 3. For example: will you aim to squeeze additional sales out of existing customers or open up new accounts to generate that $1 million in sales revenue?

What if your team is firing up more than one cylinder, implementing more than one strategy to achieve this goal? That’s realistic…and totally fine. However, for the sake of focus and brevity, you should only highlight your main strategy in your goal statement.

SMART Goal Setting Basics: "M" is for Measurable

If you’ve taken the time to ensure your goal is “Specific” enough, then SMART goal criteria number two “Measurable” is more or less a gimme.

Here’s how to know if your goal checks the “Measurable” box.

How do you know if your goal is "Measurable"?

If your team is able to answer Question 1 and Question 2 from the “Specific” criteria evaluation above AS WELL AS the following two questions, then they’re working with a goal that meets the second SMART goal criteria of “Measurable”.

1. What tools will we use to track our progress towards achievement?

Who – or what – is counting the units? Which person, system, or program is being used to keep score and what calculations are they using?

2. What reporting mechanisms will we use to share our progress internally as a team and externally to other departments?

How is progress being shared? And how often? Are results best communicated in a table, graph, dashboard, or some other format? Can results be viewed by anyone in real-time or do reports need to be prepared on a weekly or monthly basis?

SMART Goal Setting Basics: "A" is for Achievable

Of all five SMART goal criteria, this the single most significant in terms of influence over whether or not your team rises to the occasion and meets the goal.

It also has the greatest impact on their morale during the pursuit. If you have a habit of dreaming up lofty, pie-in-the-sky goals for your team, they will develop a habit of, well, failure.

While we might think that big-time victories bring next-level success and happiness, experts in the fields of psychiatry, behavioral therapy, and organizational theory have found that "smaller" accomplishments have greater - and longer lasting - impact on our lives

As it turns out, when it comes to achieving goals, the “small win” is a pretty big deal.

The trouble with the “Achievable” goal criteria is that it’s the most difficult to get right.

How do you know if your goal is "Achievable"?

Here’s my rule of thumb for determining whether or not a goal is “Achievable”:

If your team can achieve the goal using only existing talent and tools within 90 days, the goal is “Achievable”. 

Inherently, this means you should set goals that can be achieved within a quarter. If your company insists on setting year-long goals, fine. For your team’s purposes, you will break that year-long goal down into four milestones that can be achieved every 90 days.

Of all five SMART goal criteria, "Achievable" is the single most significant in terms of influence over whether or not your team rises to the occasion and meets the goal. Here's how to get it right... | SMART Goal Setting: The Ultimate How-to Guide for New Leaders

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Visionary leaders, take heart!

Adopting the “small wins” approach to goal setting does NOT mean you have to abandon your bigger, more visionary goals.


It simply means you have to learn how break those Bigger, Hairier, More Audacious Goals down into a series of more achievable goals with finish lines your team can actually see in the distance.


I have created a guide specifically to help new managers learn how to break lofty team goals down into 90-day size goals. It’s totally free - and totally yours - when you enter your details below to let me know where to send it.

New Managers Guide to Team Goal Setting

Boost team confidence and performance with "success-size" team goals.

Enter your details below and we'll instantly deliver your FREE copy of the New Manager's Guide to 90-day Team Goal-setting to your inbox.

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SMART Goal Setting Basics: "R" is for Relevant

Been around the ManagerMaker.co blog a time or two? Then, this won’t be the first time you’ll read the next sentence.

A manager’s job is to apply their team’s talent, skills, and interests in such a way that maximizes value to the company.

In order to do this, to maximize value to your company, you must first get a like-crystal understanding of what outcomes your company deems “valuable”.


If you don’t know what outcomes are valuable to your company, then you need to find out ASAP. Two recommended resources are:

1. Your boss

Book some time on his or her calendar to discuss high-level company issues and opportunities. In addition to discussing current strategies, ask for insight on what strategies in the recent past have and have not been successful.

2. Your company’s 3-5 year plan

Depending on your organization’s stance on transparency and your specific level of “need-to-know”, you may or may not be able to get a copy of your company’s 3-5 year plan, which should include details on company priorities and strategic initiatives. The only way to find out is to ask.

How do you know if your goal is "Relevant"?

If your team can confidently answer the following three questions about a potential goal, then they can confidently tick off the “Relevant” criteria box.

1. Which company-wide strategic priority does this goal support?
2. How does this goal support that strategy?
3. Why is this the right time to implement this goal?

If you can consistently align your team goals with key company strategies, you will make it easy for your team members to draw clear, close connections between their day to day work output and tangible company value. This feels good to employees. This, is good leadership.

SMART Goal Setting Basics: "T" is for Time-bound

If your goal meets the “Specific” criteria, you’ve likely got the “Time-based” criteria covered as well. But, in the spirit of dotting “i’s” and crossing “t’s” let’s make sure we give this final SMART goal criteria its time in the sun.

How do you know if your goal is “Time-bound”?

Have you set a deadline for achieving your goal? Excellent, then its “Time-bound”.

The Ultimate Payoff: What Managers Get When They Set SMART Goals at Work

SMART goal setting is the most effective way to get clarity about success. And this is critical. A clear, shared understanding of what is and is not “success” means clear expectations for all.
  • It means your team members are clear on what you expect of them.
  • It means your team members are clear on what they can expect from each other.
  • It means your boss knows what to expect from you and your team.
  • It means your boss’ boss knows what to expect from you and your team.

The Bonus Payoff: What Managers Get When They Set SMART Goals at Work


Focus.


When you present your team with a goal that is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound, you get FOCUS. Your team knows exactly where to place their time, energy, and talent for the next (well-defined) period of time.

Are They or Aren't They? 3 SMART Goals Examples for Work


With the SMART goal setting acronym spelled out, let’s take a look at a few examples.

A Human Resources Manager's SMART Goal Example

THE SMART GOAL

Cap turnover to no more 5% over the next 90 days by offering entry-level staffers a 10% of salary retention bonus.


What makes it SMART? Let’s run this goal through our series of ‘check-in’ questions.


SMART Goals: Series of "Check-in" Questions
Which units are we measuring the goal in? 

% employee turnover

By how much do we want those units to change? 

Keep turn over from exceeding 5%

What is the deadline for achieving this goal?

90 days

Where will we focus our efforts to achieve the goal? 

Creating and distributing retention bonus offers

What tools will we use to track our progress towards achievement?

Our human resources management software

What reporting mechanisms will we use to share our progress internally as a team and externally to other departments? 

Auto-generated reports from our human resources software with calculations distributed to upper management on a biweekly basis

Can this goal be accomplished in 90 days with resources that exist today?

Yes. It should not take longer than ninety days to draft the retention bonus offers, deliver them to employees, answer questions and receive them back.

Which company-wide strategic priority does this goal support? 

This would be an effective goal for a company that has identified keeping its workforce consistent as a strategic priority.

How does this goal support that strategy? 

Incentivizing employees financially is a common - and effective - way to get them to stick around.

Why is this the right time to implement this goal? 

This would be an effective goal for a company seeking to minimize the impact of an impending change. Perhaps they will soon undergo a merger, or a much-loved leader is preparing to leave the organization, or a competitor has opened down the road and might be poaching employees. Offering a retention bonus could keep employees from “fleeing”, at least in the short run, which might be all the company needs.

Is there a concrete answer to: What is the deadline for achieving this goal? 

Yes, the measuring stick will be whipped out in 90 days.

The Verdict? It's SMART!

A Product Manager's SMART Goal Example

THE SMART GOAL

Increase product rating from 4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars over the next 90 days by increasing post-purchase customer touch points.


What makes it SMART? Let’s run this goal through our series of ‘check-in’ questions.


SMART Goals: Series of "Check-in" Questions
Which units are we measuring the goal in? 

Star rating average

By how much do we want those units to change? 

.5 star rating average

What is the deadline for achieving this goal?

90 days

Where will we focus our efforts to achieve the goal? 

By increasing post-consumer touch points

What tools will we use to track our progress towards achievement?

Automated star rating system (part of our online store platform)

What reporting mechanisms will we use to share our progress internally as a team and externally to other departments? 

Daily, weekly, and monthly snapshot and graphs of star rating trends

Can this goal be accomplished in 90 days with resources that exist today?

Honestly? I don’t think so. Here’s my thought process -


In order to actually accomplish this goal, your team will have to do the following:

  1. 1
    Come up with ideas for additional post-purchase touch points that are workable (i.e. financially feasible, won’t result in a burden to the customer care team, etc.)
  2. 2
    Ideally, your team will have time to ‘test’ which ideas are more effective perhaps through a survey or focus group
  3. 3
    The team will have to work with other departments such as marketing, packaging, customer service, etc. to bring the new touch points to  life
  4. 4
    And, once the new touch points are in place, many customers will have to make a purchase and provide feedback in order for that 4 star average to actually move in the direction they’d like it to

Can all of this be accomplished in ninety days? If you think so, I don't want to be your boss.


For now, let’s keep going to see how the rest of the criteria here shakes out.

Which company-wide strategic priority does this goal support? 

This is a good goal for companies who have made reaching new customers a key growth strategy.

How does this goal support that strategy? 

A high star rating gives first-time customers the social proof they need to confidently make a purchase from a company they’ve never shopped from before. “Wow”ing first-time customers will lead to that higher star rating which is an effective way to boost that ever-important social proof.

Why is this the right time to implement this goal? 

Your team should be able to reference either a key company concern or opportunity here. For example, maybe customer feedback has shown that there is learning curve with the product and the ‘touch points’ your team has in mind can close that gap.

Is there a concrete answer to: What is the deadline for achieving this goal? 

Yes, there is a deadline, but, as we’ve discussed here, it likely to be too aggressive.

The Verdict? As-is, this goal is not SMART, but this doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be pursued. It simply means it shouldn’t be a goal.

What we can do here, is make this goal truly SMART, by right-sizing it. This can be done by running it through our 90-Day Goal Setting Guide.

A SMART version of this goal would be:

Determine which post-purchase touch points would most likely increase our product’s average star rating by holding four focus groups over the next 90 days.


Now this, is a SMART goal (in case you’re wondering, the measurable “unit” here is "number of focus groups") that positions your team to eventually move that star rating 0.5 points.

A Supply Chain Manager's SMART Goal Example

THE SMART GOAL

Reduce cost-of-goods by $0.10 per unit over the next 90 days by reevaluating and renegotiating raw materials contracts.


What makes it SMART? Let’s run this goal through our series of ‘check-in’ questions.


SMART Goals: Series of "Check-in" Questions
Which units are we measuring the goal in? 

Cost-of-goods per unit

By how much do we want those units to change? 

Decrease by $0.10

What is the deadline for achieving this goal?

90 days

Where will we focus our efforts to achieve the goal? 

Evaluating current contracts and renegotiating them

What tools will we use to track our progress towards achievement?

Examples here could be an existing inventory of raw materials by type and forecast of future purchases by type, conversations held with contractors and, ultimately, new contracts.

What reporting mechanisms will we use to share our progress internally as a team and externally to other departments? 

This will likely be communicated via memos or meetings. Ultimately, ‘success’ will be seen when new invoices with better pricing are received and even more so when the reduced cost-of-goods is reflected on the balance sheet.

Can this goal be accomplished in 90 days with resources that exist today?

Yes.

Which company-wide strategic priority does this goal support? 

This is a good goal for companies with cost savings identified as a current strategic priority.

How does this goal support that strategy? 

Reduced cost-of-goods means less expenditure and high margins.

Why is this the right time to implement this goal? 

Your team should be able to reference either a key company concern or opportunity here. For example, maybe a competitor to your current material provider recently reached out with better pricing and that can be leveraged with the existing provider.

Is there a concrete answer to: What is the deadline for achieving this goal? 

Yes, see the 90-day reference.

The Verdict? It's SMART!

5 Tips for Achieving Work Goals

Of course, setting the goals is just the beginning.

You'll want to achieve these goals you've so carefully curated. Here are our five best tips for how to do that bit.

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5 Tips for Achieving Work Goals

Tip No.1: Co-create your goals.

Don’t create your goals alone. Instead, give your team an early and proactive role in the SMART goal setting process. Ask them for their ideas. To get that creative juju flowing – and to increase your odds of collecting thoughtful ideas with real ‘goal’ potential - I recommend offering your team a little guidance in the form of the following three Goal Types.

Three Goal Types to Ignite a Goal Brainstorm
Continuous Improvement Goals

Goals designed to improve existing products, programs, or processes.

Exploratory Goals

Goals centered around totally new projects, products, or programs.

Capacity-Building Goals

Goals designed to expand your team’s ability to tackle newer, “bigger”, bolder goals next go-round.   I also recommend doing this:

List of 32 Action Verbs to Ignite a Goal Brainstorm

A wise man (who looked great in blue jeans) once said, “You can’t start a fire without a spark.”

 

Sometimes all that’s needed to form a great goal 

statement is that first word. Here’s a list of 32 action-oriented verbs to get your team inspired. Print them out and put them up on a wall for easy-viewing and inspiration.

List of 32 Action Words to Ignite a Goal Brainstorm by ManagerMaker.co
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After you’ve generated a collection of potential goal ideas as a team, you can also involve your team in vetting each potential goal against the SMART goal criteria.


As a group, determine which goal ideas are instantly SMART and which might become SMART with a little re-imagination.

A wise man once said, “You can’t start a fire without a spark.” Sometimes all that’s needed to create a great goal is that first word. Here’s a list of 32 action-oriented verbs to get your team goal-ing.

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5 Tips for Achieving Work Goals

Tip No.2: Develop no more than 3-5 goals per 90-day period.

I find 3-5 goals to be the magic number for two reasons.

1. It’s enough!

Beyond five goals, your team is at-risk of feeling pulled in too many directions. This undermines the whole purpose of the SMART goal which, again, is clarity on success and focus.


P.S. It’s also harder to track progress on more than five goals.

2. Variety is the spice of (office) life.

Carefully curating a collection of 3-5 goals that ‘play nice’ together prevents your team from experience task exhaustion. This is where individuals (or entire teams) demonstrate a decline in focus, creativity, and, ultimately, performance due to the 

repetitiveness of a task. It’s no fun.

Want to create a collection of goals that play nice together and keep your team engaged for the 90-day haul?

Do this:

  • Be sure to include one goal from each of the Goal Types listed above.
  • Avoid setting the same time boundary (deadline) for each goal. In other words, don’t select three goals that will all take a full 90 days to achieve. The smart move is to include a few smaller, quicker wins that your team can successfully wrap up before the 90-day deadline. This sense of completion will jump-start the reward circuitry in your team’s brain and help them avoid the pressure of having so many things “due” at the same time.
  • As a collection, your goals should require a mix of soft and hard skills. Try to avoid a set of 3-5 goals that are all technically demanding – or creatively demanding. Instead, choose a suite of goals that showcase the spectrum of your team’s talents.
office brainstorm session
5 Tips for Achieving Work Goals

Tip No.3: Go public with your goals.

Let everyone (at least on your team) know that you, your team, and this particular set of goals are hot and heavy…at least for the next ninety days.


You’ve got options for putting this in practice.


Maybe going public with your goals looks like a series of giant Post-It notes that hang in your office. Maybe it’s a colorful 8.5 x 11 print out that’s taped up at each team member’s work station. Maybe a digital image of your goals serves as the lock screen on your team's computers. So long as they’re “up”, it’s up to you.

birds eye of desk top
5 Tips for Achieving Work Goals

Tip No.4: Create an action plan.

Your action plan is a detailed account of how, exactly, your team will accomplish your SMART goals. It takes resources, strategies, and responsible parties, and arranges them against the backdrop of time.


Typically, you’ll often hear action plans referred to as 30 60 90 day plans. At the heart of each and every good 30 60 90 day plan are the following:

  • Your set of 3-5 SMART goals
  • The specific strategies and initiatives that will be put in play to accomplish those goals
  • An inventory of the resources (time, money, talent) you will allocate to these strategies and initiatives
  • A triage plan for on-boarding “emergency” resources and overcoming issues
  • A pre-determined evaluation of your plan’s efficacy

A well-crafted 30 60 90 day plan functions like a playbook for goal achievement. It is one of the most powerful tools in a manager’s toolkit.


If you’ve never created one, or never created a good one, no worries!


We have a super helpful post that will help you build a playbook-like 30 60 90 day plan around your 3-5 SMART goals.

5 Tips for Achieving Work Goals

Tip No.5: Continually evaluate performance.

One of the items listed as a key element of any good 30 60 90 day plan is a pre-determined evaluation of your plan’s efficacy.


In other words, you and your team will need to think about how you will evaluate your efforts and progress towards each SMART goal before you apply any effort or make any progress toward it.


Ultimately, this is a framework for assessing and exploring ‘how far you got’ and why. What this framework looks like becomes far clearer once you’ve got your 30 60 90 day plan in place. For now, let’s have a look at a three pillars that you can build your evaluation framework on.

What can you base your evaluation framework on?

1. First, you have your set of three to five goals.


Questions that belong in your evaluation include:


Which goals did we reach?

Which goals did we exceed?

Which goals weren’t reached?

If we exceeded the goal, by “how much” did we exceed it?

If we fell short, by “how much” did we fall short?


2. Next, you can assess the three phases of your 30 60 90 day plan. (Don’t worry about what this is for now, you can learn all about these phases here.)


Questions that belong in your evaluation include:


Which phase was the most challenging? Why?

Which did we move through quickly? Why?


3. Finally, you have your resource inventories and your triage plans. (Again, much more detail on what resource inventories and triage plans are and how to develop them can be found here.)


Questions that belong in your evaluation include:


Did we take an accurate inventory of our resources?

Did we allocate those resources optimally?

Did we utilize our triage plan?

If so, were they successful?

Did we overlook other roadblocks in our triage plan?


Collecting feedback – getting answers to these kinds of questions - will ensure ongoing, never-ever-ending education and improvement, which is really what success is made of.

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SMART Goal Setting at Work: A Recap

Maybe the ‘holy crap, now what?!’ moment has set in for you. 

Perhaps not. But, a management role means you now have a boss and your team looking to you for direction and leadership. A critical part of your job is to set goals that motivate your team and that are meaningful to your company – and to achieve them.


The tried, true process for accomplishing this is SMART goal setting.


You now know what SMART goal setting is and how to verify that each of your goals meets SMART goal criteria. You’ve had a look at three SMART goals examples for work and you’ve added five must-know strategies for achieving goals to your management expertise.


Finally, you know where to get access to additional tools to help you implement everything you’ve learned here.


If you haven’t already, enter your details below to have the New Manager’s Guide to 90-Day Goal Setting instantly delivered to your inbox. 

New Managers Guide to Team Goal Setting

Boost team confidence and performance with "success-size" team goals.

Enter your details below and we'll instantly deliver your FREE copy of the New Manager's Guide to 90-day Team Goal-setting to your inbox.

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PIN IT!

Sustainable success is made up of small habits, decisions, tasks, and activities that close knowledge or resource gaps, that sharpen skills, that open new doors, that build capacity for a tougher challenge the next go ‘round.

 

SMART goal processing is the strategy that formalize it all.


Hello! My name is Morgan. I created ManagerMaker.co to help new managers quickly find confidence and success in their first leadership role. Here you'll find programs, tools, and guides designed to fast-track your journey from first-time manager to confident, creative leader. The best place to start? Our 10-Day Leadership Skills challenge where you'll learn how to leap over the five biggest hurdles that keep most new managers from finding their footing in their first year. Sign up below, its free!

Morgan Greenwood

Creator, ManagerMaker.co

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