SMART Objective Setting

Reproduced from our ready-to-deliver 2 day Management Skills. course

Feel free to circulate as e-learning to your staff.

Wrong Communication at Work
  • Management Skills

We all need to know the direction in which we are headed; what is required of us to get there; how well we are doing in terms of progress and achievement along the way.

Task based objectives are set all the time. Managers sometimes assume staff members know how well they are doing or know what to do in the first place. This runs the risk of de-motivation and time wasting, particularly when the task objective isn't set properly or there was a failure to monitor progress effectively.

"Effort and courage are not enough without purpose and direction"

John F Kennedy

Take a straightforward task such as using the phone professionally. ‘To improve telephone manner' is not a good example of objective setting (what does it mean?). ‘To answer telephone promptly’ might be better. ‘To answer telephone promptly within 3 rings, each and every time’ is clear and unambiguous. However, starkly written as it is, there is a risk that it could be seen as ‘over-bearing’ and impossible to achieve. This objective was taken from an appraisal form a manager had written for a staff member. One would hope there was also some dialogue between both parties to explain the target in more detail.

Everyone seems to know what the words S.M.A.R.T. stand for, however what do they mean? Our thoughts take S.M.A.R.T. to a deeper level, introducing trigger questions to consider when setting task based objectives with staff:

Consider our 10 steps to delegation....


  • Does the team member understand what is expected of them? and why?


  • Will they recognise success when they see it?

We measure objectives by means of standards. Standards are a set of measures we judge people’s performance against. They can be quantifiably measured (e.g. complete a task by 5pm; reduce error rate to under 5%) and/or qualitatively measured (e.g.dealing with an irate client; quality of a report or presentation; tidiness of a desk).

Quantifiable standards are the easiest to recognise success by. Qualitative measures can be behavioural or descriptive based, as opposed to using numbers. Managers need to work hard at getting the staff member to see the same picture of performance as they do.


  • What barriers in their mind to achieving it?


  • Will they be able to realistically complete the task to the standards required in the time scale given?
  • What else is 'on their plate'?
  • Do you need to re-allocate other tasks and priorities to make way for this new task?


  • Have you agreed a review date?
  • Do you need to set milestones along the way?

A little thought at the start of the process can ensure that tasks are completed in the most effective way.

So come on, are you S.M.A.R.T. enough?

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