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Goal Setting with SMART Goals

By Phil Doublet

Using the acronym “SMART” for goal setting is well known in the corporate world but may not be as familiar to small business owners. In 1981, George Doran, a consultant and former director of corporate planning for Washington Water Power Company, published a paper called, “There’s a SMART Way to Write Management’s Goals and Objectives.” In the document, he introduces the SMART acronym as a guide to help improve the chances of accomplishing a goal.

SMART goals are:

  • Specific: Well defined, clear, and unambiguous

  • Measurable: It is vital that your progress can be measured towards the accomplishment of the goal

  • Achievable: Your goal has to be something that’s realistic (that does not mean it’s easy) and not impossible to achieve

  • Realistic: Similar to Achievable, it’s vital that the goal be Realistic (and understood by your whole team)

  • Timely: The goal must have a defined time frame or it’s almost certain it won’t happen – this attribute creates urgency.

Let’s go through these in more detail…

SMART Goal – Specific

Goals must be specific to have a chance of being accomplished. Generalities are deadly here. To achieve the standard of specificity, you must be able to answer the five “W” questions:

  1. Who: Who exactly is involved in this goal?

  2. What: What do I actually want to accomplish?

  3. Where: Where is this goal to be achieved?

  4. When: When do I want to start and complete this goal?

  5. Why: Why do I want to achieve this goal and how does it fit with my strategy?

For example, a common but uselessly general goal would be “I want to lose weight.” A much more specific (and useful) goal would be “I will use my gym membership and work out four days a week, for 45 minutes, to get to my ideal weight.”

SMART Goal – Measurable

A SMART goal must be able to clearly measure progress. If there is no measuring stick, you (or anyone else) will not be able to determine the progress to reach your goal. To make a goal measurable, ask:

  1. How many/how much?

  2. How can I know if I have reached my goal?

  3. What is a reliable indicator of progress?

For example, building on the specific goal above: I will use my gym membership and work out four days a week, for 45 minutes, to get to my ideal weight. Every week, I my goal will be to lose one pound of body fat.

SMART Goal – Achievable

In order to be SMART, a goal must be achievable and attainable (and again, this does NOT mean easy). Setting your goals this way will help you realize the challenges and work towards overcoming them. The overall achievability of the goal should be a stretch in order to be worthwhile, but still defined well enough that it is actually possible. Ask:

  1. Do we have the technical and corporate resources (including finance and people) and the capabilities to achieve the goal? If not, what are we missing?

  2. Has this been done before by others? What can we learn?

SMART Goal – Realistic

Your goal must be realistic. By this I mean that the goal actually can be achieved given the necessary resources and time. A good test to see if a SMART goal is realistic is if you believe that it can be accomplished. Ask yourself:

  1. Is this goal realistic for the organization and within reach?

  2. Is the goal reachable given the time and resources?

  3. Are we able to commit to achieving the goal?

SMART Goal – Timely

Finally, to be SMART, the goal must be time-bound in that it has a start and finish date. If the goal is not constrained by time, there is no sense of urgency to achieve the goal. Ask yourself:

  1. Does the goal have a firm start date and a deadline?

  2. By when do we need to achieve this goal?

For example, building on the goal above: “Beginning September 1, I will use my gym membership and work out four days a week, for 45 minutes, to get to my ideal weight. Every week, I my goal will be to lose one pound of body fat. By the end of September, I will have realized my goal if I lose a minimum of four pounds of body fat. And, I will weight myself every day to determine how I am doing.”

The Importance of SMART Goal Setting

Often, I see clients setting themselves up for failure by setting vague, general and unrealistic goals such as “I want to be the best X.” This goal is vague, unmeasurable and has no sense of direction. In our workshops, our clients often assume it’s easy to be SMART and then find out it may be harder than it looks. Practise and feedback really help!

Be making your goals SMART you are more likely to see success by making them specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely. Thinking SMART helps push you further, gives you a better sense of direction, and ultimately helps you reach your goals.


If you’d like to chat more about this topic or have any feedback, I’d love to hear from you!

Philip Doublet, P.Eng.

Management Consultant/Advisor



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