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Setting Goals

Performance goals, or what an employee does is part of the annual Performance Plan.  Developing sound goals is critical to managing employees’ performance. Each year supervisors will ask employees to set goals for the upcoming evaluation period/cycle.

What are SMART goals?  Goals designed to measure employee performance in each of their core competencies.

When do I need to write SMART goals? Generally, you will work with your employees at the beginning of each evaluation period/cycle to set performance goals for that upcoming evaluation period.

What do SMART goals demonstrate? SMART refers to an acronym built around the key characteristics of meaningful goals, which can be very helpful in writing performance expectations that can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of work and behaviors.

SMART - specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound

Specific: Don’t be vague! Goals should be simplistically written and clearly define as to what you are going to do.  Goals should be clear to anyone that has a basic knowledge of the project.  Exactly what do you want?              

  • What do you think the expectation means?
  • Are we in agreement on that understanding or is clarification needed?

Measurable: Quantify your goals! Goals should be measurable so that you have tangible evidence that the goal has been accomplished.  Know if the goal is obtainable and how far away completion is.

  • How will you know when the goal has been achieved?
  • How will you know that progress is being made?

Attainable: Be honest with yourself about what you can reasonably accomplish. Goals should be achievable; they should stretch you slightly so you feel challenged, but defined well enough so that you can reach them. You must possess the appropriate knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to achieve the goal.

  • Can the employee, given the environment, be expected to accomplish the goal?
    • If yes, then the goal is ok
    • If maybe or no, then you might need to make adjustments to the goal until the answer is yes. 

Realistic: It has got to be do-able, real, and practical. Goals should measure outcomes, not activities. Within the availability of resources, make sure you have the appropriate knowledge and time.

  • Does the objective clearly reflect how the employee will spend their time?
  • Does the objective relate to the mission and goals of the department and/or W&M?

Time-Bound: Goals should be linked to a timeframe that creates a practical sense of urgency, or results in tension between the current reality and the vision of the goal. Without such tension, the goal is unlikely to produce a relevant outcome.

  • How often does this goal need to be reviewed?
  • When should it be completed?
  • How will the supervisor know when to check for progress?
  • How will the employee know when to report progress or ask for help? 

Writing SMART goals is not easy, and takes practice. But when managers and employees know how to write SMART goals, it takes the subjectivity out of goal setting and ensures they have a shared set of expectations. 

The real aim is to identify who, what, when, where, and why for the goal—and to ensure shared understanding and expectations.

A job description or list of core responsibilities is not a measurable performance goal. While this may serve the “what” question, make sure to be specific in explaining the when, where, and why.  Action verbs can assist to create performance goals.  These include the description of each verb to help get started in the development of goals.

SMART Goal Checklist:

  • Does the goal focus on a specific area?  (Specific)
  • Is the goal written using clear language?  (Specific)
  • Does the goal begin with an action verb? (Specific)
  • Can progress be measured for the goal? Is the progress:  (Measurable)
    •  Numeric or descriptive?
    • Quantitative? Qualitative? Financial?
    • Limited by time?
  • Is the goal a “stretch”, yet still within my control?   (Attainable)
  • Is the goal sufficiently and reasonably limited in scope?   (Attainable)
  • Does the goal measure actual outputs or results, not activities?  (Realistic)
  • Do the results include products, deliverables, or accomplishments?  (Realistic)
  • Has a reasonable timeframe been identified?  (Time-bound)
  • Is it necessary to identify interim steps or have a plan to monitor progress?  (Time-bound)