How to Improve Employee Performance with SMART Goals

Employee performance and SMART goals

Companies today are under a magnifying glass when it comes to employee performance. SMART goals can help.

How can you balance business objectives with employee performance? There are so many pieces to pull together to make it happen. One of the biggest stumbling blocks is setting goals that require everyone from the CEO to the administrative assistant to be aligned.

Unfortunately, goals often fall off the radar as soon as the strategic planning meetings are over. Other than setting revenue projections and quotas, most goals don’t even make it to the next staff meeting. Why is that?

There are two reasons most goals fall flat:

  1. They are poorly designed. Designing and assigning goals is critical to aligning everyone to Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that make them happen.
  2. They aren’t communicated. When goals are not communicated, they are not shared. When they are not shared, there is no road map for everyone to follow to achieve them.

Setting SMART goals

Many companies, educational institutions, municipalities, non-profits and other organizations have adopted the simple process of establishing SMART goals. MIT defines them as goals that ensure managers and employees share the same understanding of goals set during performance review conversations. In other words, everyone working towards the same outcomes. Whether that outcome is tied to Return on Investment (ROI) or the number of new clients served by a non-profit, the responsibility for greater corporate performance is shared by everyone.

So what exactly is a SMART goal? They are goals that are Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Results Focused and Time-bound. Taking the following SMART approach when writing your goals can save time and money while creating great success stories in your organization.


Goals should be written to be easily understood and clearly define the end objective. They should specify what needs to be achieved, how it will be achieved, the timeline necessary for it to be accomplished, the reason its important and if it is a goal I am sharing with others.

Goals that are written with clarity lead to greater success by eliminating ambiguity and assumptions. The better the description, the greater chance for success. Being specific will trigger the employee to start thinking about how they will accomplish the task, who they need on their team and the action items necessary to get it done.


To be measurable, a goal should identify the exact quantifiable results you expect to see when the goal is accomplished. This may require the broader goal to be broken down into smaller pieces that are all measurable. To measure progress, you must have a starting metric and an expected ending metric to be met. What will you use as an indicator for progress?

When assigning measurable goals, the goal should answer questions such as: how much? how many? how will I know its accomplished and how is it quantified?


An achievable goal should be neither out of reach by means of resources necessary to get it done, whether money or assistance by a team. It should also be well thought out. There should be a budget for the goal and skilled people on the team to make it happen. While goals should challenge someone, they should not be assigned to a resource that lacks the skills, time, training, or tools necessary to accomplish the goal.

Goals that are impossible to achieve can be demotivating. Whereas, setting the right goal and assigning it to the right resource can be very motivating. But what about that old adage, “Big things happen to those who dream big” or “Work hard and dream big.”

In December of 2010, Forbes printed an article focusing on Steve Jobs’ advice to: “Dream Bigger.” One particular passage in that article seemed to say it all. “Passion fuels the rocket, but vision – a big dream – points the rocket to its ultimate destination. You cannot succeed in creating innovative products, services, or brands without a clear vision of how your company will move society forward.”

What if John F Kennedy would have never said “This nation should commit itself, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth?” So…. although we want to be careful not to demotivate people by assigning them goals that seem impossible to achieve, we actually may be missing our potential entirely by not putting that additional challenge out there.


What this really refers to is setting goals that measure outcomes, not activities. In today’s work environment, there is a direct link between goals and ROI. These goals should tie the employee’s direct responsibilities to the mission of the department and be relevant to the corporation overall.

Before assigning these types of goals, you should ask yourself a couple questions: why are you setting this goal, what is the overall objective and will this goal achieve that objective? The outcome you should be seeking is one that allows a manager to competently evaluate performance. These types of goals are often used to reward, promote and recognize individual or team performance. So they are very significant pieces of the goal setting process.


Time can be directly tied to money. Deadlines create a sense of urgency and call everyone to action. To be effective, these goals should be realistically set. Assigning a deadline that is impossible to achieve is a waste of an organization’s money. Money is better spent on clearly defined goals with reasonable deadlines. When those goals are clear and the deadlines are met, the sense of accomplishment can be contagious.

Do yourself a favor in 2016, throw out your old annual review process. Stop rewarding employees for the things that are expected, such as being on time, having a good attitude and being respectful of others. Give them a reason to get up everyday and come into the office. You can make it happen by creating SMART goals that help you retain your best talent and realize your best performance ever.

Then celebrate – even the small wins – and do it often!

See how one company achieved exponential growth through improved employee engagement. Download this case study to learn more.

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