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How to Work SMART-er

We look at insights from Performance Management by Linda Ashdown on how to set SMART goals and see them through this year.

With every start to the new work year, it becomes irresistibly common to jump on the band wagon of setting yourself up with new goals and objectives to climb the professional ladder and hopefully pave the way to a promotion. It’s all too easy to set goals that are too broad, and inevitably, you could be setting yourself up for a quick failure.

How many of us identify with that unfortunate trend?

How do we go about objective setting to ensure that we are contributing to the success of the organization that we belong? How do we accurately measure performance?  

As part of an organization, objective setting for individuals and teams is therefore a crucial part of the performance management process.  Without clear objective setting as managers and individuals, we become ill-equipped to tackle the goals and challenges that we set for ourselves in the year ahead.

Let’s take a look at Linda Ashdown’s perspective of being SMART at setting objectives both as a manager and an individual within an organization to avoid the consequence of potential failure. 


As Linda Ashdown explains in Performance Management, if we do not define the difference between something that is specific and something that is too broad, it leads to a lack of clarity and as a result various potential negative consequences can ensue.  Welcome sudden feelings of anxiousness and uncertainty on how to progress towards your objectives. Be specific, even if that means scaling back goals by a large percentage.  For example, think of the fine details that will help support the path to the goal that you are setting for yourself. For instance, in a sales situation, think of how you made the sale, not how many sales you have made; perhaps also look to develop on behavioural qualities that made the sale in the first place.


Without clear measures and assessment criteria in place, any assessment of performance becomes problematic because you can’t see if you have progressed or not. If you feel that these aren’t in place, then raise this at work with your superior, or simply as a manager, put these in place. Encouraging fair and measurable criteria will only benefit your organization in the long run. You should be able to clearly articulate what a successful achievement of your objectives will look like, and you should be able to assess performance against these objectives along the way to achieving them.


The importance of agreement in objective setting outlines the likeliness of the goals you are setting, or being set, actually being achieved. The argument is that if an employee is somewhat involved in the formulation of their objectives, they are more likely to deliver better performance as a consequence. There also needs to be a motivating factor to deliver good performance. Motivation theories such as Locke’s Goal Theory (1968) argue that for goals to motivate towards high performance, there needs to be an element of challenge. Thus, forcing objectives onto an employee could be deconstructive, but if they participate in the formulation of this objective, they are more likely to feel that they have a stake in it and thus play a significant role in achieving it.


Are you a big organization or a small organization? That question shouldn’t really matter when it comes to setting relevant goals. You need to think about how objectives are cascaded down through your organization in order to not lose the connection towards the individual. Individual performance should be aligned to the wider goals of the organization to ensure individuals are focused on activities that add value and contribute to the organization’s success as a whole.

Much research into effective job design has shown that individuals are more likely to perform well in a job where they can make a connection between their work and the wider goals of the organization. This also helps develop a feeling of organization citizenship, feeling part of something rather than just working for something.


With all goals that are set, there also needs to be a clear indication of when these should be achieved by. Usually the variable in life that is most challenging is having the time to simply get things done. Get around this by prioritising the objectives, make these timeframes realistic, and make sure that this is agreeable between all parties or stakeholders.

This year, start your goal-setting off SMART.