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9 Steps for Setting SMART Goals

By Jason Heckl - May 10, 2021

Whether you look at it through the lens of business or the lens of personal life, goal setting is essential. Goal setting will be your ultimate measure of success, and will help you determine if the actions you're taking are contributing to your long-term vision (or not).

If you're looking for a strategic planning facilitator to align your team and bring you through the goal setting process, we can help. Check out our service offerings here:

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Despite how important the goal-setting process can be, it often causes confusion or is done incorrectly altogether. In our experience working with organizations to help them create and implement their strategic plans, we've noticed that the goal-setting process can trip up even the most high-functioning individuals.

Steps 1-2 aren't technically part of the goal-setting process, but should be considered before you start creating your goals. With that being said, here's out 9-step checklist for setting SMART goals:

1.  A clear vision of the future.

Although not part of the actual goal setting process, figuring out where you want to end up is a critical part that should be looked at first. Developing a vision for the future is often overlooked when it comes to goal setting, but will be crucial when it comes to actually developing your goals. Your goals will act as your gauge to help you determine if you're moving closer to your vision of not.

This vision of the future should be available for all to see. Whether you're at home or in the office, the vision should serve as your daily reminder of where you're trying to go. 

For more on developing a vision, check out these videos: 

2.  Prioritize.

Once you've got your vision of the future in place, it's time to prioritize. Prioritization is also not part of the goal setting process itself, but another critical step that should be solidified first. In this step, you'll choose 3 or 4 areas that you want to focus on. It's fine if these focus areas are vague - we'll be getting down to the nitty-gritty soon. Here are some examples for both business and personal life:


Business  Personal
1.  Revenue 1.  Exercise
2.  Culture 2.  Diet
3.  Service Delivery 3.  Family


Once you've identified your 3 or 4 priorities, you're all set to begin actually setting your goals. For each priority area you've defined, create some space for 4 or 5 goals per priority. If you have too many goals, you risk being pulling yourself in too many directions at once.

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The next 5 steps will help you with the process of creating your goals: 

3.  Be specific.

If your goals aren't specific and clear, you and/or your people won't be able to put together a focused effort on meeting those goals, and they'll be open to interpretation. To help make your goals specific, start by asking questions like these: "Who is involved?", "Which resources are involved?", "What is the timeline?", "Which product/service is relevant?", "Why is this a goal?", and so on.

4.  Make them measurable.

For this step, it's time to create KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), a measurable value that helps you determine your progress towards your goals. By making your goals measurable, you're making it clear to yourself and/or your people what success looks like (and what failure looks like). By the end of the defined term, it should be obvious if the goal has been met or not. By attaching numbers, dates, percentages, dollars, etc. to your goals, they'll become measurable. 

Another tip for creating measurable goals would be to consider both leading indicators and lagging indicators. Leading indicators tell you how to achieve a goal, and are known as a predictive measurement. A lagging indicator measures the final output or result. As an example, a leading indicator could be the number of staff wearing a mask, and a lagging indicator could be the number of COVID-19 cases. When creating your goals, keep your indicators in mind. Ideally, you want a mix of both leading and lagging.

5.  Make them achievable.

Often used interchangeably with 'attainable', achievable goals mean your people have a realistic chance of completing them. Achievable goals should push you and/or your people to be their best, but at the same time they shouldn't be so distant that your people aren't even motivated to try. Ultimately, there should be a clear path forward to meeting that goal.

6.  Make them relevant.

Irrelevant goals are a great way to disengage yourself and/or your team completely. In order for people to be motivated and inspired to crush their goals, they need to be relevant to their role in the organization. An obvious example of an irrelevant goal would be giving sales targets to your human resources department. A tip for making goals relevant to your people would be to involve them in the goal setting process. That way, if they can have a say in what they're goals are, they'll be much more invested in them.

7.  Make them time-bound.

Finally, your goals need to have an end date. It may be uncomfortable, but by setting an end date, you indicating to yourself and/or your people when exactly the goal will be completed or not by. The end date will help make if you've succeeded or failed. If it's too difficult to look forward, chunk out your goal and shrink the timeline. Give yourself and your team the opportunity for shorter term wins that can be updated more often.

8.  Gather input & consensus.

If you're working with a team for the SMART goal setting process, this step will be crucial. By giving your people the chance to share their input and the chance to be heard, you're increasing their buy-in to the process. Not only that, your people will probably be able to point out flaws in the goals. Maybe they aren't relevant enough, maybe some of the numbers are unrealistic, or maybe there aren't enough resources to complete the goals. Get input from as many stakeholders as you can before you settle on anything.

9. Find an owner.

And finally, assign an owner to each goal (if possible). The owner is the person in charge of moving that goal forwards. It doesn't have to all fall on their shoulders, but they should be the ones trying to make it happen either by themselves or with the help of others. By having an owner in each goal, you're assigning responsibility or even consequences to that person. That way, they'll be more invested in making sure that goal gets completed.


Hopefully these 9 tips have helped you and your team with the SMART goal setting process. If you'd like some help with the goal setting process, as well as every other step in the strategic planning process, check out our video course, How to Create a Strategic Plan:


Learn more about how a strategic planning consultant can help align your team by helping you with the goal setting phase, along with every other step in the strategic planning process:

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