Setting SMART Goals with the SMART Method


If you search for “How should goals be defined?” you will quickly come across the SMART method for defining goals. And then you’ll wonder, “What does the acronym SMART stand for?”

Therefore, we will explore the SMART method for goal-setting, examine its advantages and disadvantages, and look at examples of SMART-defined goals.

What is the SMART Method?

Definition of the SMART Method:

According to the SMART method, a goal must be Specific, Measurable, Attractive, Realistic, and Time-bound to be attainable.

SMART Goals Setting Targetter

Let’s examine each element of the SMART method in detail.

Smart Goal Setting Targetter Axel Rittershaus


Defining Specific Goals with the SMART Method

SMART Method: Specific

The goal is described concretely, unambiguously, and in detail.

A major problem with most goals is that they are too vague. This vagueness leads to different interpretations by everyone who hears about the goal.

An example of a non-specific goal: “Live healthier.” 

This goal could refer to diet, the place where one lives, the number of hours of sleep per day, or physical activities.

A non-specific goal might work if it’s a personal goal that isn’t communicated to others, and where you know exactly what you want – but just can’t communicate it better. Still, it’s better to formulate the goal more specifically.

An example of a specific goal: “Adopt a healthier lifestyle by changing diet to consume meat or fish no more than once a week, alcohol no more than once a week, and engaging in at least 30 minutes of sports twice a week.”

This goal definition not only clarifies the goal but also helps us take the proper steps to achieve it!

SMART Goals Dart Setting Targetter


Defining Measurable Goals with the SMART Method

SMART Method: Measurable

The goal is described in a way that it can be measured both quantitatively (e.g., amount, scope, revenue, margin) and qualitatively (e.g., average customer rating, gap tolerance, time from order to delivery).

An example of a non-measurable goal: “Serve customers better.”

This goal makes sense, but how do you measure the outcome?

If a goal is not measurable, it contradicts the SMART method, leading to two main problems:

  1. How do you know if you are making progress? Recognizing progress is crucial for motivation, and non-measurable goals quickly lead to demotivation.
  2. How do you know if you’ve achieved the goal? It’s a problem if you continue working on a goal already achieved without knowing it. Perfectionists are particularly at risk of spending too much time and energy perfecting an already completed result.

An example of a measurable goal: “Increase customer satisfaction, measured by the annual customer satisfaction survey, from the current 3.9 to 4.5 next year and to 4.8 in all subsequent years.”


SMART Goal Setting Axel Rittershaus


Defining Attractive Goals with the SMART Method

SMART Method: Attractive

The goal is described in a way that is attractive to all involved.

Here, we encounter the first criticism of the SMART method. ‘Attractive’ is a very subjective term.

The idea behind it is sound: if someone is internally opposed to a goal, they are likely to do the bare minimum or postpone tasks related to that goal.

For example, a goal to complete a 190-page presentation might not be attractive. It is likely necessary but not attractive.

But if all goals must be attractive, most of the essential but less appealing tasks may be neglected. Until they become urgent.

An example of an attractive goal: “Gain three new customers (and receive a bonus of EUR 50,000).”

In this example, it’s not the goal itself that is attractive but what you get when the goal is achieved.

For instance, if someone wants to pay off their morgage, the goal ‘Pay off all debts by 31.12.2024’ is attractive because it eliminates a burden, fulfills a dream, and frees up money for other things.

It’s extremely helpful if a goal is attractive but truly important, challenging goals could be rejected or receive too little attention by this SMART criterion.

SMART Goal Setting Axel Rittershaus

Defining Realistic Goals with the SMART Method

SMART Method: Realistic

The achievement of the goal must be realistic.

Hmm, what is realistic?

‘Everything seems impossible until it is done.’

Nelson Mandela

This requirement of the SMART method is, to me, the most critical element. 

Attractiveness was subjective, but realism is even more so!

For example, if we were in a sports team of our company and you prefer going to the gym while I prefer running, a goal of participating in a marathon in four weeks might be unrealistic for you – but realistic for me.

A realistic goal definition is helpful when it considers the individual’s condition or situation to achieve it. However, for challenging goals, another factor is crucial: the mindset of the person involved.

Some people approach every challenge with the attitude of ‘I’ll find a way,’ while others might lose sleep over small changes.

Moreover, realistic goal-setting rarely fosters innovation or breakthroughs. A goal requiring innovative solutions would likely be seen as unrealistic.

An example of a realistic goal: “Reduce response time to customer inquiries from 48 hours to 47.9 hours.”

This is very realistic but also boring.

An example of a, most likely, unrealistic goal: “Increase revenue from EUR 100,000 to EUR 2,500,000 within 12 months.”

Such a (according to SMART) unrealistic goal can unleash unexpected energy and innovations that wouldn’t arise with a realistic goal.


SMART Goal Setting Axel Rittershaus


Defining Time-bound Goals with the SMART Method

SMART Method: Time-bound

The goal should be achieved by a defined date.

This requirement makes sense.

A goal without a deadline is a wish – and we often hope wishes come true by themselves. But most goals require us to take action…

Examples of goals without deadlines: “Develop new products” or “Exercise more.”

Sure, these sound good. But by when?

Without a deadline, we can always start tomorrow. Or the day after. Or after the summer holidays.

Hence, setting a deadline is crucial when defining goals.

Examples of SMART Goals for Companies

  • Increase revenue in product area X by 7% compared to the previous year by 31.12.2024.
  • Reduce the reject rate in product line Q from 12% to 9% by 30.09.2024.

Examples of SMART Goals for Personal Goals

  • Adopt a healthier diet starting immediately, consuming meat or fish no more than once a week, alcohol no more than once a week, and doing at least 30 minutes of sports twice a week from three months onward.
  • Personal development for team leadership by participating in an online training course by 31.09.2024 and actively applying for team leader positions within and outside the company from 01.11.2024 with the goal of a promotion to team leader within the next 18 months.


Advantages and Disadvantages of the SMART Method

The advantages of the SMART method have been described in each criterion.

Additionally, SMART is certainly better than having no goals at all.

The biggest disadvantages of the SMART method are:

  • Promotes mediocrity: As described above, the criteria Realistic and Attractive can lead to targeting less ambitious goals and avoiding unpleasant tasks.
  • Inhibits motivation: Various studies show that motivation also comes from solving difficult problems – which are not tackled with overly realistic SMART goals.
  • Ambitious goals are not definable: Ambitious goals like “Develop an innovative AI product area for healthcare” are not specific enough, according to SMART. For visionary goals, it is sometimes necessary to act unspecifically first and define more specific sub-goals.
  • Lack of practical transfer: After defining the goal, SMART leaves you alone. There is no support for deriving actions from the goal (in contrast, the OKR method is made to support you until you have achieved your goal).