S.M.A.R.T. Goals

The above goal conditions for positively affecting motivation and performance have commonly been referred to as SMART goals. Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson first developed the SMART goal system when branching the concept of goal theory beyond academia into the area of management and leadership (Blanchard, Zigarmi, & Zigarmi, 1985). The meanings for the of Blanchard and Spencer’s SMART goals have evolved over time and the modern definitions are represented in the figure below:

The term raising the bar is a common metaphor for setting challenging goals.  Therefore, to further explain the elements of SMART goals, an analogy of a track and field high jumper will be used to demonstrate how raising (or lowering) the bar affects motivation and performance.  In addition, examples of SMART goals will also be generalized in a management situation to demonstrate the various goal essentials and conditions.


In order for goals to translate into motivation and improved performance, goals must be specific. 
A goal to just jump higher is too general. Instead, an example of a specific goal would be to improve high jump by three inches.
A management goal to improve profits is too general. This broad goal could include increasing sales, reducing costs, or a combination thereof. A more specific goal would be to increase sales by 8%.


Goals must be measurable to be able to provide progress feedback and to know when the goal is achieved. 
Three inches (and increments below, between, and above) are both measurable and specific in order for the high jumper to be able to gauge his progress and achievement. Therefore, instead of the goal being improve high jump by three inches, the jumpers goal could be to increase high jump from 64 inches to 67 inches. 
Similarly, the manager can measure the progress of the sales figures to understand how much focus and resources to dedicate to achieving the goal. Therefore, a goal of increasing sales from $80,000 to $86,400 is more specific and measurable than the ambiguous goal to just increase sales.


A goal must be assignable to an individual or a group. 
Because high jumping is an individual goal, the high jumper would assign this goal to himself – or perhaps the high jumper’s coach might assign this goal to the jumper. 
In the sales example, the manager must be able to assign the goal to a specific person or department.


The goal must be challenging, yet realistic. 
Lowering the bar for a high jumper could not realistically increase motivation nor enhance performance. Similarly, setting a goal to raise the bar ten feet is not a realistic or attainable goal and would therefore not positively affect motivation or performance. 
Similarly, increase sales by 300% may not be a realistic and attainable goal. By setting goals unrealistically high, the manager may not see increased motivation or performance in the sales team.


In order for goals to positively affect motivation and performance, goals must be time-related. 
For the high jumper, he may set a time within three months which may provide a realistic time frame to meet his goal. However, a time line of tomorrow may make achieving the goal unrealistic. Similarly, before I’m forty may be a time line that is so far into the future and lacks urgency and motivation. 
A realistic time line for our manager might be by the end of next quarter. Increasing sales by 8% by the end of the week may be too aggressive, and before the company goes bankrupt is too vague of a time line.

When originally introduced by Blanchard, SMART goals were denoted as: Specific and Measurable, Motivating, Attainable, Relevant and Track-able (Blanchard, Zigarmi, & Zigarmi, 1985, p. 89-90). Over time, the SMART acronym for goals has evolved into what they are today: Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, and Time-Related.

“Specific” and “Measurable” have been split into two separate categories. The requirement that goals be specific has been enduring in the SMART goal acronym. “Motivating” was dropped from the SMART system, perhaps because it is the overarching theme of goals. If done correctly, goals will be a positive motivator and will enhance performance. The term “attainable” has had alternatives–such as “achievable.” However, as stated above, a goal must be accepted and have commitment in order to be achieved. As a result, the A in SMART goals has become “assignable”. “Relevant” has widely replaced “Realistic,” possibly because irrelevant goals would not be realistic and, while a goal may be relevant, whether a goal is realistic may depend on­ the time frame for achieving the goal. Track-able is redundant to measurable and has been replaced with time-related because goals with no deadline lack direction and urgency.

SMART goals also may be evolving into SMARTER goals with the E adopting meanings like emotional, exciting, enthusiastic, and evaluate and R adopting terms such as reevaluate, reassess, and reviewed often.

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