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What Is the SMART Criteria?

By M.R. Anglin
Updated May 16, 2024
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The “SMART” in “SMART criteria” is an acronym that helps a person set business or personal goals. According to the criteria, a person’s goal should be Specific, so that anyone can see the objective, and it should be Measurable, so that a person can gauge how close he or she is to completion. It should also be challenging, yet Attainable, and Relevant — so important to the person that he or she is motivated to achieve it. A goal should also be Timely, having a deadline that gives it urgency.

The “S” in the SMART criteria reminds a person to set specific goals. Specific goals help to keep employees and managers, or any other individuals, on track. For example, consider a freelance artist who wants to make more money: a goal too vague to be effective. In order to plan according to the SMART criteria, such a goal should include how much money he would like to make and how he should make it. A more specific goal is “I would like to make 30% more income by completing 10 commissioned pictures by the end of the week.”

Having a measurable goal is the “M” in the SMART criteria. It includes setting goals with built-in checkpoints so that a business or person can measure progress. For example, the goal the example artist has set includes completing 10 pictures by the end of the week. At any given moment, he can measure how close he is to completing those 10 pictures. He can even set a subgoal of completing two pictures a day.

This sample goal is also timely, the “T” in the SMART criteria, because it includes a deadline. Having a timely goal is essential to prevent a person or organization from procrastinating. There is a danger, however, that a person can be too ambitious in his goal-making. This is where the “A” in the SMART criteria comes in — the goal should be attainable. In the case of the artist, if he normally works hard to complete two pictures in a week, he is unlikely to be able to complete 10 pictures in a week, and he should not set a goal to do so.

Lastly, the “R” in the SMART criteria helps ensure a relevant goal. Setting a goal to draw 10 pictures is useless for a recording artist. In a business, such a goal may have to take several different forms. For example, if a software company wants to increase money, a goal for the sales department may include increasing sales by a certain percentage. On the other hand, the goal for the tech department may include developing a certain number of software programs by the end of the year.

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