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How to set SMART objectives: definition and examples

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Last editedJan 20213 min read

Does it feel like you’re treading water with your business? You might need to try a new approach to setting goals. Discover how to make your strategies a little smarter using these SMART objectives examples.

What are SMART objectives?

SMART is an acronym used to set and achieve goals. The letters stand for:

  • S – Specific

  • M – Measurable

  • A – Achievable

  • R – Relevant

  • T – Time bound

Within this basic framework, there are plenty of opportunities for personalisation. SMART can be used to tick off day-to-day goals, but it also applies to wider corporate objectives.

The ultimate purpose of setting SMART objectives is to clarify ideas, focusing your time, resources, and efforts in a more productive manner. In other words, it prevents you from wasting time on objectives that are murky or simply unviable.

How to set SMART objectives: step by step

Setting smart objectives starts with thinking about areas of your business that need improvement. This could range from company growth to streamlining production. Next, it’s time to start creating some realistic, achievable goals within these areas.

Here’s an explanation of each step, along with SMART objectives examples.

Step 1: Be specific.

Generic goals are far less practical, because it makes it harder to measure when you’ve achieved success. If you want to start moving forward with plans, it’s far better to be specific with your objectives. One strategy is to apply the ‘W’ words to your goals:

  • What needs to be done?

  • Why is it important?

  • Who will help achieve this goal?

  • Where will this take place?

  • Which resources are needed to succeed?

The objective should be written in such a specific, clear way that anyone reading it will understand what it means.

Example: Imagine a business that produces flavoured sparkling waters. A non-specific goal would be ‘I want to expand my business’. A specific objective would be ‘I wish to start selling my product in the USA to access a sizeable new market’.

Step 2: Make it measurable.

The second step to consider when looking at how to set SMART objectives is measurability. How will you assess progress along the way? If your goal isn’t measurable, you won’t know if you’ve succeeded. Think about questions like:

Typical terms used to measure success could include quantity, quality, deadlines, costs, and frequency.

Example: In the case of the flavoured water company, one measure of success could involve shifting X number of units to a vendor based in the USA. Another objective could relate to the volume of goods sold during an accounting period.

Step 3: Make it achievable.

Next, think about whether your objective is realistic. Unattainable objectives are not only frustrating, they’re also a waste of resources. To start measuring whether your goal is achievable, answer questions like:

  • Do I have the finances to fund this goal?

  • How realistic is this goal within the available time frame?

  • How will I accomplish what I set out to do?

If your target is out of reach, it can be demoralising. Make sure that what you want to do is possible.

Example: When looking at expanding into the US market, the business owner should research flavoured water competitors. Is the market already saturated? What do the shipping costs look like? How much will this cut into profit? How will the brand attract a new audience in a different country?

Step 4: Choose a relevant goal.

Sometimes we set goals just because we feel like we ‘should’, rather than choosing objectives that matter to us. Before you set your business on a new course, you should think about how relevant the goal is.

  • Does it align with your organisation’s current vision?

  • Is now the right time to achieve this goal?

  • Does it seem like a worthwhile endeavour?

If you can answer “yes” to questions like these, it probably meets the fourth of these SMART objectives.

Example: If the business owner already sells high volumes of product in Europe, with a European-centred marketing approach, he might want to think about why he wants to expand into the American market. Is now the right time, or should he focus on further European growth?

Step 5: Choose a timeframe.

Finally, when setting SMART objectives, you should make sure to set yourself a deadline. Otherwise, it’s too easy to keep pushing your goal into the future. Businesses can get so caught up in everyday tasks that longer-term objectives fall to the wayside. Think about:

  • What can be accomplished in six months?

  • What can I do every day to meet my goal?

  • Is this project possible in a reasonable period?

Not everyone thrives under deadlines, but they’re necessary to ensure you’re making regular steps toward your final goal.

Example: The bottled water business needs to set a clear deadline for when they will sell their first product. They can break this down into smaller goals, such as making contact with US-based vendors, researching shipping restrictions, and focusing marketing tactics.

As you can see, learning how to set SMART objectives can help businesses of any size reach their targets more efficiently.

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