SMART Goals are Still Smart!

Sometimes we’re in such a hurry to learn about the newest, hottest leadership and management trends that we forget to take advantage of what still works. Back in 1981 — the same year that “Raiders of the Lost Ark” made its debut and Lady Diana married Prince Charles — George T. Doran published a paper in Management Review titled, “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. Way to Write Management’s Goals and Objectives.”

Thirty-seven year later, SMART goals continue to be thoughtful, effective tools for organizing work, leading, and managing. If you have gotten away from SMART goals (or never used them) here’s a quick primer


If you are familiar with SMART goals, you’ll notice that in our version, “R” stands for “Results.” In most other versions “R” stands for “Relevant,” or “Realistic.” At Arden Coaching, we prefer this version, particularly for executive coaching goals (more below).

Consider the goals and objectives of your organization, operating unit, department, and/or project team within the context of the SMART framework. State your goals using SMART criteria to evolve your goals from vague and poorly-defined to clear, precise, and results-oriented.


The goal must be stated in a concrete way, and be limited in scope. That is, the goal must be tangible, and can’t be completely open-ended. There must be parameters to establish the span of the effort.


How will you know you’re moving forward? How will you know you’ve succeeded? Trackable, quantifiable metrics that provide an indicator of progress and achievement are essential. 


This is tricky but critical. Can the goal realistically be achieved given available resources? Research demonstrates that goals deemed “impossible” by employees are de-motivating, and actually produce worse results than having no goals at all. Goals considered “too easy” do the same damage.

For Arden’s executive coaching engagements, “Achievable” means it must be coachable — not so easy that someone would do this intuitively, on their own, but not so challenging that the goal is unrealistic — the sweet spot is where it’s attainable, with support from a professional executive coach.


We prefer “Results” because focuses a SMART goal on the vital importance of connecting to specific outcomes desired, not simply actions taken. People often make the mistake of creating action-based goals. They fail because taking a series of actions (and thereby successfully completing the goal) doesn’t mean you have produced the results you want. 


Every goal must clearly state “by when?” All work must be accomplished within a defined time frame.


Imagine receiving word that your company must:

“Significantly improve the company’s pipeline of sales leads from trade shows.”

This could be interpreted in so many ways, that it means nothing at all. The following first SMART draft helps tremendously:

The marketing/events team will increase the company’s pipeline of qualified sales leads from trade show exhibition by 25% during the next 12 month period beginning July 1.

  • What counts as a “qualified lead” needs to be understandable to all.
  • The number of trade shows and the total budget must be clear — is the marketing/events team expected to increase leads with no increase in trade shows? No increase in marketing budgets?
  • There’s a precise time frame to work within. Progress benchmarks would also be helpful.
  • The goal is built around results (increasing qualified sales leads by 25%) not actions (e.g., attend 5 additional trade shows).

It really works! At Arden Coaching, we use SMART goals in both executive coaching and in team performance training. But again, it is a tool. Using SMART goals requires judgment and leadership. Under-performers will use “achievable” as a reason to lower expectations, and some will focus on measurability to an extreme degree. Goals need to be strategically aligned and prioritized. That said, it’s a wonderful way to develop goals with consistency and clarity within any organization.

To learn more about executive coaching, team performance training, and SMART goals, contact us at [email protected] or 646.844.2233.