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Mike Figliuolo


SMART Goals, Part 1

How to make your goals specific and measurable

Published: Tuesday, March 9, 2021 - 13:02

All articles in this series:

When you set goals, I suggest you try to set SMART ones. SMART is an acronym. It stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound. These are the key characteristics of a good goal. Now there are multiple versions of SMART out there, but they all get to the same thing: creating clear and actionable goals that matter.

In this article, the first of a two part series, let’s focus on the first two SMART characteristics: specific and measurable.


The first characteristic of a good goal that you should focus on is making it specific. Make the goal unambiguous. Tell people what to do, why they’re doing it, who’s accountable, and what the performance standards are. Don’t create nonspecific goals like, “We should optimize our performance.” What does that mean? How are people going to behave if you just tell them go optimize performance? They won’t know what to work on.

Make your goals specific. Tell people things like, “We’re going to increase department sales by 12 percent to achieve a corporate sales increase of 8 percent.” Let them know the performance standards. Those standards can be things like error rates, speed, safety incidents, and quality scores. You can be driving a specific metric like profits or sales. Without specificity, people are going to work on the wrong things or focus on the wrong outcomes. That’s going to hurt performance and frustrate everybody who’s involved. If a goal is specific, everyone will know exactly what to work on.

When you write a goal, take a step back and imagine you just hired somebody new. You’re going to give him that goal. When you do, will he know what to work on? Will he know what your behavioral expectations are? If not, you need to take more time and think about how to make that goal more specific. Tell him what you want changed, why it’s important, and what behaviors he should demonstrate that will help him achieve that goal.


The second characteristic of a good goal is that it’s measurable. If you can’t measure a goal, you don’t know if you’re making progress on it or not. You won’t know if you succeeded in achieving it. And don’t just think about the metric you’re going to use; you also must think through what data you’re going to pull. What reports are you going to use to track how you’re performing against the goal? What’s the frequency of measurement you’re going to use? What measurement method are you going to use? Will you use actual results or sampling? There’s nothing worse than arguing about if you hit a goal or not because the data or reporting were questionable. If you spell those things out early in the goal-setting process, there’s much more clarity on the back end as to whether or not you hit the goal.

Measuring the right things

Make sure the measure is an accurate reflection of the desired outcome. If I want customer retention for my organization, I shouldn’t measure things like customer survey results or qualitative answers to questions from customers when we call them. People don’t always tell the truth, or they may give you answers they think you want to hear but really don’t reflect their actual behavior. If I want retention, I should measure the total number of customers I have and how many of them I lose. Try to make your measure as direct a reflection of the metric as possible.

For example: At one point, I ran a call center organization. We thought we wanted customer satisfaction. And we set that as a goal upfront. The thing is, what we were really after was customer retention. So for that customer satisfaction goal, we measured things like a voice of the customer survey. We looked at how many times customers were calling us back. We would call customers and ask them about their experience. And we thought we were doing great because all those things were trending in a positive direction.

The problem was we weren’t measuring the right things. And it drove the wrong behaviors. Our associates started being much nicer to customers because they knew we were going to call them and ask, “How was your experience?” And our associates thought if the customer was happier, they would get better scores. The thing is, it didn’t matter how nice the associates were. What mattered was if they solved the customer’s problem. When we started measuring first-time problem resolution, it changed the associates’ behaviors. They started focusing much more on, “Here’s the customer’s issue. How do I solve it in one call?” And guess what? Retention went up because of it.

When you’re thinking through your goals, especially about making them measurable, think through how you can directly measure that goal. What sources of data are you going to use, and how will you report out to the organization? Because with that clarity, you’re going to drive behavior change much more rapidly.

SMART goals training

First published Feb. 17, 2021, on the thoughtLEADERS blog.


About The Author

Mike Figliuolo’s picture

Mike Figliuolo

Mike Figliuolo is the author of The Elegant Pitch (Weiser, 2016) and One Piece of Paper (Jossey-Bass, 2011), and co-author of Lead Inside the Box (Weiser, 2015). He’s also the managing director of thoughtLEADERS LLC, a leadership development training firm. He regularly writes about leadership on the thoughtLEADERS Blog.