How to set SMART goals in 2021

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Isabelle Hahn

April 19

Post-it notes goals

The distributed knowledge worker has taken center stage, and traditional management forms have already made their exit. Prioritizing transparency and alignment across teams has become vital to success. 

In this spirit, goals within a company should be discoverable between teams, as they are the glue that brings everyone together toward a common interest. The most important aspect of goal-setting is that whoever is setting the goal is clear about what they’re trying to accomplish.

This is why traditional goal-setting methods like SMART goals and OKRs still have a place within our redefined working world. With SMART goals in particular, the format was designed to keep goals detail-oriented and specific. We’ll break down how this framework can work for your distributed team. 

Example of setting a SMART goal in the workplace

Taylor has just gotten a new job as an engineering manager for a small startup that’s in the middle of fundraising. 

She’s tasked with increasing her team’s output, all of whom work across different project areas and are located in three different countries. Her team lead has also assigned her the task of looking for a solution that improves team communication and reduces context-switching exhaustion.  

Taylor’s team uses a myriad of apps to collaborate, create, and communicate. It isn’t unusual for her to be in Clubhouse, GitHub, Slack, Jira, Zoom, Google Drive, and Google Calendar all in one day. As she looks for a solution for her team, she is wary of creating more work to sift through and concerned about sharing data with a third party. 

It's up to Taylor to figure out what strategy or tool she will use to develop a system that will improve the current one within a short time. She plans on using SMART goals to achieve this. 

What are SMART goals?

SMART is an acronym that is used to add structure to your goals. The letters in the word SMART stand for Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.

Writing down a SMART goal for what you want to achieve means working on each of the five components, one after the other, until you reach your goal. SMART goals eliminate guesswork, track your progress, and provide a clear timeline.

To set SMART goals, let’s look at what each aspect of the SMART acronym means. We’ll use Taylor’s case as an example to elaborate on how you can use SMART goals to your benefit.

S— Specific

Goal-setting helps us to achieve our greatest aspirations. When we set our goals, we need to be specific regarding what we want. The specificity of your goals should include an answer to the following ‘w’ questions:

  • Who – Specify who needs to be involved in your plan to achieve your desired goal. If this is more than one person, make sure they are on board with your goal’s changes and progress. You may have to build out an async structure to update stakeholders. 
  • What – Understanding what you want to achieve when setting up a goal is crucial to your project's success.
  • When – Answer this question in the Measurable and Time-bound sections of the SMART acronym. Your “when” keeps you on-track and accountable to deadlines.
  • Where – This question may not have been relevant to some business goals in the past, but with today’s distributed teams, considering your where will help align communication efforts. If your team is located in different time zones, it will likely impact deadlines and working hours.  

In Taylor’s goal, it would be ambiguous for her to say, “I want to adopt a better collaboration system.” Collaboration in today’s working world can be sync or async. It can happen in your project management tool, in Slack, or within the code your team is writing. Getting specific about what she’s looking to improve will put Taylor on the right path to solving the problem. 

She could change her goal to: “I want to eliminate the chaos of collaborating across multiple apps and adopt a solution that allows the team to either connect these tools or provides integrations that assist with communication across them.” 

She also notes that this solution needs to be user-friendly, offer enough value for her team to buy in, and protect the work they’re doing. 

M — Measurable

Measuring a goal’s progress means you have to identify the outcome when you complete it. Defining an outcome makes it easy to break down your goal into measurable, completable elements before getting to the next step. 

Think about how to measure your goals with evidence. Something your team can see as actionable. 

How many applications should Taylor and her team be able to integrate into this new system? How will they measure the success of onboarding and implementation? What evidence can she present to the people around her that showcases the value and adoption of a new tool? 

One great way to do this is by adding concrete metrics. She could measure the time it takes to complete a project with the new framework and compare it with the time a similar project took without it. 

For an organizational goal, qualitative measurement is also actionable evidence. If team members report less context-switching while using a new collaboration tool, that feedback is enough to measure impact. 

A — Achievable

A goal needs to be attainable. It needs to be something that is within your reach, something realistic. Factors that go into achievability are effort, time, and any costs you may come across. 

In terms of being realistic, Taylor might have noticed that researching and onboarding a new system for her team may take longer than a few weeks. She wants to be sure she makes the right choice and won’t have to rethink it when her team grows. Instead of a one-week time frame, she gives herself a month. 

R — Relevant

The goals we set need to make sense and have a benefit attached to them. Relevancy allows you to evaluate why your goal matters. Thinking about all the factors that push you to finish your goal is an excellent way to determine relevance.

Taylor doesn’t want to find a solution that improves team communication for the fun of it. Her job is to increase her team’s output, and communication is a massive blocker for productivity. She identifies a need based on company performance and a solution that is relevant to that problem. 

T — Time-bound

Every beginning has an end. Reasonable goals always have a deadline. The final part of SMART goals is that they need to be time-bound.

When Taylor incorporates dates to her goal, she has imposed deadlines to keep in mind. Her goal for adopting a system is a month from now, but setting deadlines for research, demo scheduling, and actual adoption would be a significant next step.

→ Check out more examples as well as an easy-to-use SMART goals template.

Execute SMART goals with the help of a work hub

When factoring in all of the prerequisites of a SMART goal, Taylor’s goal could read, “I want to adopt a solution that eliminates the chaos of collaborating across multiple apps and allows my team to communicate effectively. I can accomplish this by researching available options, selecting one that integrates with a majority of our current apps, implementing it within three months, and measuring success when a majority of team members report a positive experience.”

Of course, setting a SMART goal is one thing, getting your team involved is another. Visibility is the key to promoting accountability and follow-through. Taylor’s next step would be to share her goal with her team and possibly the entire company to enroll support and buy-in. 

With a work hub, you can build momentum with your goals by making them discoverable to your entire organization and connecting them to day-to-day work. This visibility allows for unambiguous ownership, and the ability to track progress the way it was intended — with people in mind.

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WRITTEN BY

Isabelle Hahn

Isabelle handles content marketing at Qatalog and is passionate about brand storytelling.