How to set Smart objectives and targets

Smart stands for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time relevant.

Why use Smart objectives/targets in an appraisal?

Smart targets, linked to evidence, help ensure that everyone is appraised in a fair, consistent and transparent manner. They provide a clear outline of what needs to be done and how the outcome will be assessed. They help everyone to understand the part they need to play to help us achieve the objectives in our district and departmental service plans.

Setting Smart objectives/targets

Goals or objectives are generally at a broader level than targets and probably less specific. The terms are often used interchangeably. It can be helpful to use objectives for completing activities and targets for quantifiable performance.

How to set Smart objectives/targets
ElementDescriptionAsk Important Questions
Specific Specific means that the objective is concrete, detailed, focused and well defined.
Objectives must be straight forward, emphasise the action to be taken and the desired result.
They are best written in plain English using strong, action verbs such as conduct, develop, build, plan, organise etc. to help focus on what’s most important.
They should be clearly understood and mean the same thing to all involved.
For example, to become financially independent could mean different things to different people.
  • Do you know exactly what you are going to do, with or for whom?
  • Do you understand why are you doing this?
  • Do you clearly understand the objective and does everyone else?
  • Are you clear who is involved?
  • Are you clear what needs to happen?
  • Are you clear when and where the action is to take place?
  • Do you understand what outcome is expected
Measurable For an objective to be measurable the method of measurement must be identified early on.
The agreed measurement should be used to regularly track and review progress against the objective.
“If you cannot measure it you cannot manage it.”
Fixed measures and milestones should be set throughout long term projects.
  • Are the necessary measurements in place or if they need to be put in place who needs to do this?
  • How will you know that you are progressing in the right direction?
  • When will you know the desired change or result has occurred?
  • When will decisions on the next course of action need to be taken?
Achievable Objectives need to be achievable, if the objective is too far in the future, or unrealistic it will be hard to keep motivated and to strive to achieve it.
Objectives need to stretch, but not so far that those involved lose motivation or enthusiasm.
  • Can you get it done in the proposed timeframe?
  • Do you have the resources, support, skills and knowledge required to achieve your objective?What previous experience do you have?
  • Do you believe this is possible?
Realistic Many objectives are achievable but they may not be realistic. If all your resources are put into achieving one objective, other more important objectives may suffer.  Realistic means the resources are used to get the right and most effective result.
  • Do you need to revisit other priorities and objectives to make sure you have the resources to make things happen?
  • Do you have the resources, support, skills and knowledge required to achieve your objective?
  • Will you be able to achieve the objective?
Time Relevant Time relevant means setting the deadline to achieve the objective. Deadlines need to be both achievable and realistic.
Setting agreed timeframes can help create more urgency, prompt action and encourage more regular reviews
  • When will you accomplish the objective?
  • What dates have you put in place to ensure the objective is completed on time?

Why set targets?

Targets help to drive improvement in a number of ways. They:

prioritise: initiate a discussion as to our departmental and corporate priorities. We can set targets in a number of areas to indicate that these areas are of higher priority.

help to define an agreed direction: they show more precisely where we are trying to get to. It can then be made clear to everyone: staff, members and the public what is expected.

focus attention and resources: everyone understands and works to the same priorities.

motivate staff: if they are challenging but realistic, and there is a sense of ownership of them, they can be motivating.

When setting Smart objectives/targets take a three step approach by looking at:

  • a broad statement of what needs to happen, summing up the task to be completed and the behaviours required
  • detailing what this success will look like in measurable terms
  • what information is needed to establish whether the target has been achieved

[Crib sheet]

  • To [action verb]
  • [Key result]
  • How often
  • By [measure]
Smart objective examples
Smart objectivePerformance target/measure of success

Complete risk assessments for 98 per cent of workstations in line with statutory guidelines by 1 April.

Collaborates with workstation users to ensure assessments completed on time and to a high quality.

Plans and manages project effectively

Uses technology to improve process

Decrease department costs by two per cent compared to previous financial year

Works with team to identify how savings can be made and implemented.

Identifies clear priorities

Keeps team updated on progress and celebrates successes

Identifies and manages risks

Positive and resilient attitude

Respond to complaints, in writing, in line with policy, within two working days

Takes ownership of complaints process

Liaises with colleagues and partners to resolve issues in a timely manner

Respectful and sensitive approach

Shares feedback so that complaints can help generate service improvements   

Review development needs for all team members prior to 31 March by completing personal development plans.

Listens to and engages with team members

Identifies measures for success

Shows commitment to own personal development

Research tools for generating ideas: For each issue highlighted in the departmental review produce at least three ideas and discuss these with line manager by end of current financial year.

Works with the team to generate solutions to highlighted issues

Demonstrates creative approach

Ideas presented clearly and accurately, well thought through and planned

Considers financial implications in approach  

Update team on project X progress verbally at every weekly departmental meeting.

Adapts style of communication to suit different team members

Communication style clear and succinct

Input and check accuracy of data held in the financial management system on a weekly basis ensuring that it complies with the requirements of 2015 audit.

Data input accurately with few errors

End of year reports run smoothly with few anomalies or missing data