SMART Method: How to set your goals

How to set goals - The SMART method

Arthur d'Achon
March 10, 2022 - 5 min reading
Updated January 09, 2024

Creating a routine is important for your productivity and that of your colleagues, but it's your goals that turn your productivity into success.

  • Setting goals helps you move forward with your tasks and avoid stagnation.
  • Setting long and short term goals helps you to focus, measure your progress and hold yourself accountable.
  • Setting clear, achievable goals helps you stay on track.

If a goal isn't specific enough, you won't have any reliable way of measuring your progress, and you'll lose effectiveness.

This is where the SMART method comes into play, a powerful tool invented in the 70s for fine-tuning your professional goals.

History of the SMART method

The idea of defining clear, measurable objectives is not new, and has been a basic principle in management and organizational psychology since the early 20th century. However, the formalization of this concept into a structured method, known as SMART, only took place in the 1980s.

The first known use of the acronym SMART in the context of goal management is attributed to George T. Doran. In 1981, this consultant and former director of corporate planning for the Washington Water Power Company published an article entitled "There's a SMART Way to Write Management's Goals and Objectives", presenting SMART objective criteria as a way to improve your chances of achieving your goals.

In this context, SMART actually stands for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound.

Over time, the SMART acronym has been adapted and modified by various authors and practitioners. For example, some replace "Attainable" with "Ambitious" to encourage more challenging goals, or "Realistic" with "Relevant" to emphasize the importance of aligning goals with overall strategies.

The popularity of the SMART method lies in its simplicity and effectiveness, providing a clear, easy-to-understand framework for setting and achieving goals.

The SMART acronym

SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound:

  • S for Specific: The objective must be clearly defined and understandable.
  • M for Measurable: The objective must be quantifiable or measurable to track progress.
  • A for Attainable: The objective must be realistic and achievable.
  • R for Realistic: The objective must be relevant and reasonable.
  • T for Temporally defined or Limited in time: The objective must have a clear deadline.

1. Specific

Good objectives are not ambiguous. A specific objective is clear and precise. It clearly identifies what is to be achieved, by whom, where and why, and on which you or your teams can focus.

For example,

  • Instead of saying "I want to have 100% of my DN in my entire fleet", say "I want to reference my 20/80 in my OR stores before the end of the first half of the year".
  • Instead of saying "Increase sales", say "Increase sales of the soft drinks category by 15% in stores in the Northwest region over the next quarter".

You can see that the second lenses are much more specific and therefore a better lens.

When writing your objective, try to answer the five questions:

  1. What do I want to achieve?
  2. Why is this important?
  3. Who's concerned?
  4. Where is it located?
  5. What resources or limits are involved?

2. Measurable

Tracking the progress of your goal is an important part of motivation. A measurable objective includes specific criteria for measuring progress and determining when the objective has been achieved. For example, "increase the number of customer visits to the top 20 stores by 10% per month, as measured by in-store traffic data".

It allows you to set milestones that you can celebrate when you reach them and reassess when you don't.

A measurable objective must answer questions such as:

  • How much?
  • What period of time?
  • How will I know if it's affected?

3. Achievable

Make sure your goals are achievable. An attainable goal is one that is realistic and achievable within current resources, capabilities and limits.

Although impossible goals may keep you going for a while, you will always end up abandoning them for lack of results.

On the other hand, your objectives or those of your staff must be challenging. And finding the right balance will require experience and a good mind to analyse all the data at your disposal.

For example,"Train 75% of sales staff in the Southeast region in cross-selling techniques by the end of the year", knowing that the necessary training resources and time are available.

An achievable goal will usually answer questions such as:

  • Can I achieve this goal?
  • How realistic is the target, given other constraints such as raw material supply?
  • Is there enough staff, time, etc. to achieve the objective?
  • Are I or my colleagues sufficiently trained?
  • Is my catchment area large enough?

4. Realistic

You might think that "achievable" and "realistic" are two similar notions. But what we're really talking about here is the relevance of your objective. A realistic objective is relevant and achievable given current conditions and available resources.

For example, "Introduce a new local product in the savoury section by the first quarter of next year", taking into account supply chain capacity and market demand.

Make sure it's worth your time, and that it fits in with your company's strategy or the progress of your implementation in a given territory, for example. And make sure it's in line with your other objectives.

A relevant objective will provide a positive answer to questions such as

  • Is it worth it?
  • Is this the right time?
  • Does it meet my needs or those of my company?
  • Am I the right person to achieve this goal?
  • Is it applicable in today's socio-economic environment?

5. Limited in time

Good goals have a deadline. A time-bound goal has a clear deadline, creating a sense of urgency for achievement.

For example, rather than saying"I want to improve my store layout", you could say"I want to increase my layout in 100 new stores of a brand in 6 months."‍

You can see that the person who has set this second goal will be much more motivated to succeed as they have a target date in mind for their goal.

A time-bound objective will generally answer the following questions:

  • When?
  • What can I do in six months' time?
  • What can I do in six weeks' time?
  • What can I do today?

How do you write SMART objectives?

When thinking about writing SMART objectives, it's a good idea to note down each of these criteria, then write one or two sentences per objective, explaining how they address each of the specifics discussed above. Here are a few steps and tips on how to write them effectively:

Start with the 'Specific' aspect

Clearly identify what you want to achieve. Be as specific as possible.

Ask yourself questions such as:

  • What is your overall goal?
  • What specific products are involved?
  • In which supermarket chains?
  • In which geographic or demographic market?
  • Why is this important?
  • Which team is involved in achieving this goal?

For a supermarket brand, the objective might be: "To increase sales of[add product or range concerned] by[insert desired % increase] in the[name of chain] supermarket chain in the[geographical area concerned] market".

Make sure the objective is 'Measurable

Determine how you will measure the success of your objective. What indicators or data will you use? How will you measure progress?

To continue with the sales objective example, ask yourself:

  • How do you measure evolution? In numerical terms, or as a percentage?
  • What is evolution measured against?
  • Over what period of time? A month? A quarter? A year?
  • How can we keep up with these developments?

The answer could be: "To measure the increase in sales from one quarter to the next, on a chain-wide basis, by comparing results with the cash register outflows, which are integrated into my CRM.

Check that it is 'Reachable'.

Make sure your objective is realistic, given your current resources and constraints. To do this, analyze your production capacity, your human resources, their working hours and the tools at their disposal.

If you want to increase the number of sales in a defined area, one of the sub-objectives is to ensure a sustained rate of store visits. Unfortunately, to achieve this objective, your area managers will have to increase the number of visits per day. If the objective is not achievable at time T, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why isn't the target achievable? Is it a lack of resources? Is it a lack of collaborators?
  • Can I help them achieve their goal?
  • What solution can help them achieve their goal?

The above objective can, for example, be achieved by equipping area managers with a sales CRM developed for the field. If they spend less time preparing appointments, and less time taking attendance and shelf-space surveys, they'll be able to make more visits.

Confirm that it is 'Realistic'.

Consider the relevance of the objective to your overall strategy. Is it timely and aligned with other objectives? Make sure the objective supports the brand's overall strategy. The objective must be practical and relevant.

For example, aim to increase sales in regions where demand[for the product or range concerned] is growing, and where the brand already has good recognition. To do this, rely on your internal data, gathered by sales staff in the field, as well as empirical data such as that from IRI or Nielsen, which offer a more global view of the market.

White paper: the impact of data on the commercial strategy of supermarket brands

Define a 'Temporally Defined' frame

Set a clear deadline. When do you want to achieve this goal?

You can also set yourself a final deadline and partial deadlines. For example, you could define the following objectives:

  • Final objective: "To increase sales of the organic product range by 20% in E.Leclerc stores in Corèze, before the end of the fourth quarter."
  • Sub-objective #1: "Increase sales of the organic range by 5% in E.Leclerc stores in Corèze, before the end of October."
  • Sub-objective #2: "Increase sales of the organic product range by 12% in E.Leclerc stores in Corèze, before the end of November."

Write the complete objective

If you've followed all the steps, you now have your complete goal.

Integrate all aspects of SMART into a concise statement, which might read:

"Increase sales of the organic product range in the Corrèze department by 20% by the end of the fourth quarter of the year, by increasing the number of store visits and using datasharing results to track progress."

Feel free to revise it to make it clearer or more realistic.

Implementing the SMART method

Setting up SMART objectives will help you boost your productivity and have a real vision of your progress.

  • Assess your brand's current needs and objectives. This involves understanding where you stand in relation to your competitors, the state of the market, consumer trends and internal challenges.
  • Identify specific areas for improvement.
  • Define clear objectives for each identified area, following the method above.

It's up to you!

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