How SMART Are Your Goals?

Zig Ziglar once said that “a goal properly set is halfway reached.” I don’t know about you, but I always figured if I could get a 50% head start in anything, I’d take it! Of course it can take a lot of effort to slug through the dog days of execution, especially if your goal is to run a marathon or something tough and long-term like that. But the greater battle is usually for clarity at the onset.

So how do you get clarity when it comes to goal-setting?

You’ve probably heard about SMART goals before. If you haven’t, this little model could change your life. If you have, it’ll be a good refresher. Here are the steps to transforming regular, ordinary goals into SMART goals.


The first step to make any new goal SMART is to make it specific. The more specific the better. “I want to live a healthier lifestyle” is a noble and wonderful goal. But it doesn’t have any backbone until it becomes more specific. Do you want to eat better or exercise more? “I want to become a better leader” is excellent as well. But what do you mean by that? Better planning? Better execution? Better relationship-building? More personal development?

Check out these examples:

Unspecific: I want to buy a new house.

Specific: I want to save enough money to make a down payment on a home in the Pleasant View neighborhood.


Whether it’s a professional goal or a personal one, we usually start by wanting “more” or “less” or to become “better” at something. That’s great, but it’s simply a good intention until it’s measurable. How much more? How much better?

In other words, how will you know when you’ve reached your goal? Without a finish line, everyone lets up when difficulty or distractions come. Without a performance target, no one knows how to adequately prepare.

To make a goal measurable, try to add numbers. How much weight do you want to lose? How many widgets do you want to sell? How many dollars do you want to make?

Immeasurable: I want to compete in a race.

Measurable: I want to run a 5K race in 24 minutes.


Whereas the first two elements of SMART goal-setting have to do with clarity, the next two have to do with congruence and scale. They depend on the situation. When it comes to attainability, your goal may be as specific and measurable as it can be, but is it even possible? Do you have the resources you need to complete it? Are the factors within your control?

If you’ve just had open heart surgery, setting a goal to run a marathon in 3 1/2 hours by the end of next month is probably not going to be attainable, no matter how specific and measurable it is. Walking up to a half mile at a time by the end of next month is probably much more likely.

For organizational leaders, are these goals attainable for the people they will be assigned to? Selling 100 new cars off the lot this month may be attainable for a seasoned veteran but not for the new representative.


Considering relevance can seem like a quick validation check, but it’s enormously important. It’s probably just as well to address this first in the process. But if it doesn’t get addressed at all, there could be a real problem. The key question to ask is: does this goal help us accomplish what is most important?

The best example I can think of for relevance came when I was in the Army. One of my soldiers was overweight and too slow on his running time, so he created a SMART goals to run x amount of miles each week. When we met the next month, he told me he had changed his goal to lift more weights instead of run. Now he was even slower and heavier! There was nothing wrong with lifting weights, but it was the wrong goal at the wrong time.

Organizationally, this speaks to the importance of strategy. Each SMART goal should help accomplish the strategy, not go off in a different direction.


Time bound is exactly what it sounds like. It’s the end date when your goal will be finished. Every budget has one. Every goal should have one as well.

Not Time-Bound: To earn a promotion.

Time-Bound: To earn a promotion by the end of 2013.

And there you have it: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. It’s not rocket science – anyone can do it. And once you complete your goals, don’t forget to do two things: evaluate and celebrate. Then set some more.

Good luck!

Nathan Magnuson is a leadership consultant, coach, trainer and thought leader.  Receive his new ebook Trusted Leadership Advisor by subscribing to his website  or follow him on Twitter.

Nathan Magnuson is a leadership consultant, coach, facilitator and author of the books Stand Out! and Ignite Your Leadership Expertise. Click to see the exciting work Nathan is doing with young professionals.

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2 thoughts on “How SMART Are Your Goals?

  1. I add one thing to this – for me, the goals that have worked are the ones attached to a WHY. I have to be able to quantify why I want to achieve the goal.

    • Absolutely Tom – and I actually make the why (purpose/strategy/priorities) a step that comes even before setting goals. Nothing worse than a good goal that takes you down the wrong road. For some goals I’ll try to attach a reward or incentive as well.

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