How to Write and Use SMART Goals at Work

Goal setting is a necessary component for success, especially in the workplace. Not only do goals boost employee productivity, but they also give us purpose and help us turn our aspirations into reality.

But if the power of setting goals at work has been proven time and time again, then why is it that 60% of businesses say they don’t have a standard goal-setting method in place?1

Simply put, most companies don’t know where to start when it comes to setting and defining expectations. And if you’re a part of the statistic, don’t worry. We’re here to introduce you to different forms of goal setting, starting with a fan favorite: SMART goals.

Read on to learn…

goal setting worksheet

What is a SMART Goal?

A SMART goal is a goal-setting method first introduced in 1981 by George Doran, Arthur Miller, and James Cunningham. In the article, “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. Way to Write Management Goals and Objectives”, the authors introduce the SMART acronym and its criteria:

  • Specific goals are direct, detailed, and meaningful.
  • Measurable goals are quantifiable and can be tracked to monitor progress or success.
  • Attainable goals are realistic and require employees to have the tools or resources to achieve them.
  • Relevant goals align with your company mission and will push a business forward.
  • Time-based goals have a definite time frame and a completion date.

The purpose of the SMART methodology is to provide leaders with a template to help them write actionable, achievable goals in an organized fashion — and it’s done just that. Since its debut, the SMART goal system has become popular with businesses across the globe, and different variations of the acronym have been developed over the years.

How to Set SMART Goals

Each element of the SMART acronym plays a crucial role in adding value to a goal. To set SMART goals correctly, you need to address each of its components separately before piecing them together.


The first step in the SMART goal setting process is to be as specific as possible with your goal.

We recommend addressing the 5 W’s when making a goal-specific: why, what, when, who, where? The five W’s is a practice commonly used by journalists to target a story from all angles before sitting down to write.

Questions to consider when writing specific goals:

  • Why is this a goal?
  • What do I want to achieve?
  • When do I want to accomplish this goal?
  • Who needs to be included to complete this goal?
  • Where will I complete this goal? (Necessary only when a goal needs a mandated physical environment to be completed; i.e. I will run five miles on the track every day.)


Goal tracking is a vital part of the goal-setting process if you’re hoping to keep teams accountable for measuring the progress, success, or failure of a goal. By identifying Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) during the early stages of goal setting, you’ll be able to measure the short- and long-term progress of your business goals over time.

Questions to consider when writing measurable goals:

  • What metrics will I use to track this goal?
  • Are there multiple ways to measure success for this goal?
  • What quantifiable change to the business am I hoping to achieve by accomplishing my goals?

Remember, some goals take longer than others to show results, which is why choosing the right metrics matter.


The most compelling goals push us out of our comfort zones and encourage us to grow, but they also need to be realistic. It’s commendable if your goal is to increase ad revenue by 100% but challenging to accomplish if you don’t have the budget or time to dedicate to testing.

Questions to consider when writing attainable goals:

  • Do I have the tools and/or resources I need to complete this goal?
  • Do I have the skill set to accomplish this goal?
  • Is this goal possible, and if so, what is my action plan?


Individual and team goals should connect to the high-level business objectives to ensure employees are fully engaged in their daily wok.

Moreso, connecting goals to the company’s mission statement can help instill a sense of meaning and purpose into an employee’s role, as well as push the business vision forward.

Questions to consider when writing relevant goals:

  • Does the goal align with my overarching company objective?
  • Does this goal make sense with our business plan?
  • Will accomplishing this goal move my business forward?


Your goal can be specific, measurable, attainable, and relevant — but it’s all trivial if your goal isn’t time-bound.

Imagine you own a synthetic Christmas tree store, and your goal is to sell 325 trees to people within a 50-mile radius of your shop. You have the necessary equipment and inventory to accomplish the goal, it aligns with your company mission, and you can easily track your success. The only problem is it’s the middle of summer, and very few people are shopping for Christmas trees.

Timing really is everything.

Questions to consider when writing time-bound goals:

  • When will I complete the goal?
  • What target dates should I meet to complete the goal?
  • Should I set this goal now or in a later quarter?

SMART Goal Example

Now that we’ve broken down each part of the SMART acronym, let’s see them in concert with one another. For this SMART Goal example, we’ll say our goal is to increase the number of leads we generate. How can we turn this into a SMART goal?

  • Specific — The sales and marketing team will work together to generate 30 new leads through an email nurture campaign dedicated to our prospects in the healthcare industry.
  • Measurable — We will track the number of leads closed and email engagement to measure the success of our campaign.
  • Attainable — We have an email marketing program in place and a list of our prospects readily available.
  • Relevant — Our goal aligns with our company mission to provide better project management software to the healthcare industry.
  • Timely — We will roll this email campaign out over a 4-week period starting on July 28th. Emails will be sent on Tuesdays, and we will continue to track the success of our emails for a 6-week period.

How to Apply SMART Goals to Work

Now that you know what SMART goals are, here’s how you can apply them:

Be Transparent

Encourage your team members to set their own SMART goals and promote transparency between peers. SMART goals do even better when they’re checked by multiple teammates for accuracy and effectiveness. Remember, feedback is crucial to individual and company success.

Track Goals with Performance Management Software

There’s nothing worse than setting and forgetting your goals. All of your progress goes out the window if you don’t know how to accurately assess it.

Performance management software can equip your team with the tools it needs to set and track goals in real-time, across teams and departments.

Reward Teams for Hitting SMART Goals

You hit your SMART goal! Woo-hoo, confetti for you. 🎉 But really – you deserve to be rewarded. Did you know companies who use incentive programs report a 79% success rate in achieving their established goals when the correct reward is offered?2

That’s because recognition and rewards fuel our desire to do well, and make us all more engaged with work when done well.

Goal Setting Worksheet

What’s the first thing you need to do when you set goals? You need to write them down, of course! Physically writing goals is a simple and effective process for goal planning, yet most people don’t even think to set goals on paper and instead keep them in their heads. Statistics show that people who write down their goals have an 80% higher chance of achieving them than those who don’t.

goal setting worksheet

To make the setting goals easier for you, we created a printable SMART goals worksheet for you to use as a tool to document, categorize, and set your goals. Our planning worksheet can be used for both short-term and long-term goals and can be downloaded multiple times to help you plan monthly goals or tackle daily to-do lists.

The goal setting template also serves as an action plan to ensure you’ve thought about every angle of your SMART goals — from a specific goal to measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based touchstones.

Bonus points? Our goal worksheet also comes with a section dedicated to OKRs to truly take your personal and business goals to the next level.

→ Download our goal setting worksheet to help you write your SMART goals


What SMART Goals Lack

SMART goals are a great place to start the goal-setting process, but they can fall short when it comes to expressing creativity and ambition. Because SMART goals are tactical by nature and focus on a 100% success rate, they can stifle more innovative projects. That’s where the OKR method steps in.

OKRs, which stands for Objectives and Key Results, was made famous by Google. The OKR goal-setting method takes SMART goals to the next level because unlike SMART goals, OKRs are considered “stretch” goals. That means they’re designed to be out there and accomplishing 60-70% of an OKR is deemed a success.

To put it simply, SMART goals are a formula for writing effective goals, and OKRs align these goals to organizational and departmental goals.

To put it simply, SMART goals are a formula for writing effective goals, and OKRs align these goals to organizational and departmental goals.

The question is, what works better — SMART goals or OKRs? The answer is they both work!

Companies shouldn’t limit themselves to one form of goal setting. Instead, businesses need to incorporate different methods of goal setting depending on their individual needs. Some goals are better suited to be SMART goals, while others are only victorious when they’re written as an OKR. The important takeaway here is to make sure that you have some form of a standardized goal setting method in place and a way to document it.