SMARTER is better than SMART

A good rule of thumb is to use the SMARTER management framework for writing your objectives. Make sure the objectives of your project are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound, evaluated, and recognized.

Read this article which was written to help managers prepare to implement a company-wide strategy. Its guiding principles also apply to writing a grant proposal.

Image of a target with the letters SMARTER

"I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it." – William Thomson, also known as Lord Kelvin, Scottish physicist (1824-1907)



In order to execute efficiently on your company strategy while supporting the personal development of your staff, it is your duty as manager to set and share adequate team and individual goals. A commonly used management method recommends defining SMARTER criteria for your goals: the objectives must be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound as well as Evaluated on a regular basis and Recognized/Rewarded when achieved or Revisited when not.



Setting team and individual objectives is a key process that allows your team to focus on a long-term unified direction by defining clear targets to reach and by measuring the progress towards those targets. It also helps to increase your staff engagement and their job satisfaction by offering them some personal rewarding challenges supporting their personal development. Obviously the goals that you set directly derive from your company strategy, match its values and take into account the missions and maturity of your team and each of its members.

The most classical management method for setting objectives proposes to follow "SMARTER" criteria. Your objectives must be:

  • Specific: the goal must be explicitly defined, without any ambiguity. It cannot be subject to individual interpretation but must explain specifically what has to be achieved and the type of outcome expected.
  • Measurable: the completion criteria and related quantitative or qualitative measurement method must be clearly described. In other words, you must be able to answer the question: "How will I know that the objective is attained and which evidences are required to confirm it?"
  • Attainable: this criterion emphasizes the importance of setting an objectives that is challenging for your team but nonetheless reachable against the existing constraints. It also requests you to assess whether the objective is realistic taking into account the other objectives that you have already set for the same employee.
  • If the target is out of reach, your objective will become meaningless. This criteria also poses the question of the resource, authority and means needed to accomplish the objective: confirm how the goal can be reached (specific skills to be acquired, training available, human or financial resources, level of authority…). An objective cannot be reached "by all means" but through method and means aligned with your company ethic and values.
  • Relevant: the goal must be tied to your organizational priorities and to the employee maturity in his role. Goals that align with your company strategy, the team mission, and the employee development and that do not conflict with other objectives are relevant. It also requires to check whether the timing for the objective is appropriate.
  • Time-bound: this criterion stresses the importance to specify an appropriate time frame for your goal: when is it supposed to start and to end? What are the steps and critical milestones to accomplish it? What are the intermediate outcomes expected and by when? Answering those questions contributes to defining a sense of priority for your staff and helps them to organize their tasks around their various objectives.
  • Evaluated: as a manager, it is your responsibility to set challenging goals for your team but also to support your staff in reaching their targets by assessing the progress on a regular basis and by providing some recommendations or coaching sessions to overcome eventual obstacles. Define some specific checkpoints (at a predefined frequency or at critical milestones) and the related expected deliverables. Do not wait for the objective to reach its time-limit to deliver your feedbacks: this is counter-productive because it does not support the development of your collaborator and may even create frustration if the target is missed. The final evaluation result of the objective completion should not come as a surprise to your employee but should be the reflection of the intermediate reviews plus the evaluation of the last mile and its final output.
  • Recognized/Rewarded or Revisited: when reaching the end of the time frame defined for the goal execution, run the final evaluation to assess the success or failure in achieving the objectives. Ask your employee for the lessons learned while executing the objective. What would they do differently next time? Why? What could they manage easily? What were the main obstacles? How have they been able to overcome them? What have they learned?

    If the objective is reached, explain the type of reward that the employee can expect (impact of the evaluation on possible promotion or mobility, extended responsibilities, and autonomy on similar activities at the next opportunity, monetary compensation…) and in any case recognize the accomplishment. It is important to praise the employee for his performance, especially when outstanding.

    On the other hand, if the outcomes are below expectations, it is crucial to run a full review with your employee to understand what went wrong and why. Ask penetrating questions to get to the essence of the issue and share ideas on what could have been done differently. This discussion allows you to revisit the objective in order to draw the appropriate conclusions and should become the basis for defining new goals that will help your employee to improve his weak areas.

What will make the success of your team and its members in achieving their goals is their capacity to own their objectives and focus on their execution regardless of the numerous distractions from their daily activities. From experience, in order to increase the sense of ownership, I recommend here to engage your team further by:

  • Having your team member propose their self-defined objectives; review if they are compatible with the overall organization missions and priorities as well as relevant for the employee development within the company and include them if this is the case.
  • Reviewing and agreeing together with your staff on the SMART criteria for the objectives you assign them; involve them especially on the means, resources, and time frame definition.
  • Making sure to explain how those objectives will support their personal development, the team mission, and the overall company strategy.
  • Asking your staff to print out their objectives once set and to keep them visible at any time in their work environment.

At the end of the goal-setting exercise, each employee should be able to express clearly the following:

"My company objective is to XXX; our team will support this goal by XXX; my personal contribution to this mission is to XXX."


So What?

In most cases, managers with teams set for success go really instrumental when defining and assessing the objectives for their teams and respective members. They define goals that not only reflect and support the organization's strategy and mission but also that inspire and motivate their collaborators by making sure that those goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Then they spend time providing regular feedbacks and intermediate Evaluation and make sure that the employee is Recognized/Rewarded when the target is achieved or that the objective is Revisited through adequate review when it is missed.


Source: Bruno Abrioux,
Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License.

Last modified: Monday, October 12, 2020, 3:54 PM