What are SMART goals?

SMART Goals or the SPAR Goal-Attainment Process are methods for helping you set specific, achievable goals for yourself.

What is the SPAR Goal-Attainment Process?

The SPAR Goal-Attainment Process can be broken down into 4 steps: Set, Plan, Act, or Reflect.

  • Set Goals

    • When you set a goal, make each goal SMART - Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound. (See next section for more information.)

    • You don’t want to set too many goals or you can be overwhelmed.

    • Write it down.

    • Share your goals with others to increase accountability and get feedback on them.

    • Create short- and long-term goals.

    • Create subgoals.

  • Plan

    • Break your plan down into small achievable steps based on sub-goals.

    • Be able to make progress (and not become overwhelmed by trying to tackle a sub-goal that is too complex or hard to achieve).

    • Identify resources (including people), tools, and strategies needed to achieve your sub-goals.

    • Predict barriers or obstacles that may impede achieving your sub-goals. Include levers or resources that may help you to overcome obstacles.

    • Get organized! Put the steps in a logical order.

  • Act

    • Take the first step.

    • Follow your plan and follow through. Just creating a goal and plan, but not taking the steps to achieve it, will not magically make it happen.

    • Don’t get discouraged if everything doesn't go as planned. Persevere.

    • Go the extra mile. Do more than what is required, if you can, to achieve competence, mastery, or excellence.

    • Your actions are critical to realizing your goals.

    • Share your actions with others who can provide you with praise and encouragement to help you stay motivated.

  • Reflect

    • It is important to reflect on what happened and is happening in the process.

    • Evaluate what worked. Think about what didn't work and what was challenging to do.

    • Think about what you would do differently in the future.

    • Admit mistakes.

    • Many people leave out reflection from their goal-setting process, but it is a critical step for correcting your course of action and learning for the future.

    • Reflection is not a weakness - the ability to self-correct is an asset and a strength.

    • Revise your plan, if needed.

    • Take pride in your accomplishments.

    • Get feedback from relevant stakeholders.

What are SMART goals?

Goals can vary in terms of how helpful they can be to us. In fact, many people have written a lot about goals and have described what makes a goal effective. The likelihood of succeeding with your goals increases when the goals are SMART, an acronym that describes the characteristics of an effective goal. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound.

  • Specific meaning the goal is clearly defined and detailed. This point may seem obvious; however, not creating a specific goal is one of the most common missteps in goal setting.

  • Measurable goals should include an outcome that can be measured. If we can’t measure whether or not we have accomplished our goals, then it will be very difficult for us to determine if we are making progress towards them.

  • Attainable - how do you know if a goal is attainable or unattainable? You have to assess where you are currently. That includes thinking about any obstacles that might stand in the way of achieving a goal and thinking about any resources that can be leveraged to help you achieve your goals.

  • Relevant and appropriate goals to your life, will make you more motivated to accomplish them.

  • Time-bound goals have a set deadline, so that it won’t go on endlessly. Having a time-bound goal can help make you accountable by creating an actual schedule to accomplish it.

SMART goal example

For example, your goal is to “have a job after college,” but this goal is not a SMART goal. How can you make it better?

  • Specific = what field he or she wants the job to be in, such as a job in accounting.

  • Measurable = “I will have been offered and accepted a full-time job during my last semester of my senior year in college.”

  • Attainable = “I want an entry-level job versus a job for an advanced employee.”

  • Relevant = getting a job is a reasonable consequence of graduating from college and is something you care about.

  • Time-bound = “I’d like to find a job and start it within three months of my college graduation.”

Your goal becomes, “I want to have been offered and accepted an entry-level, full-time job in accounting during my last semester of my senior year in college and I want to start within three months of my college graduation.”

How can you use the SPAR Goal-Attainment Process and SMART goals in your business?

  1. Set Goals

    • Make them SMART

  2. Plan

    • What I will do?

    • Any obstacles or challenges to my achieving this step?

    • What can I do to overcome this obstacle or challenge?

    • Who can provide me with support when I need it? This includes support in overcoming obstacles, so I can achieve this step.

  3. Act

    • Start working to make your goals a reality!

    • REMEMBER: Done is better than perfect. Think of your actions as mini experiments. Even if things aren’t perfect, you can learn, revise and improve with each step taken.

  4. Reflect

    • What is your plan for Reflection?

    • When will you review your progress towards this goal and maybe even revise your plan?

Why are SMART goals important?

Goals are part of every aspect of business/life and provide a sense of direction, motivation, a clear focus, and clarify importance. By setting goals for yourself, you are providing yourself with a target to aim for. A SMART goal incorporates all of the criteria needed to clarify your ideas, focus your efforts, use your time and resources productively, and increase your chances of achieving your goals.

Pro Tip

One thing to note is that any or all of these steps can be done with the help of others and having a mentor or using your network is a great way to be more efficient, informed, and potentially, effective. Use the SMART Goals section of our Meeting Guide to work with your mentor on goal-setting and achievement.