SMART Objectives

by Evil HR Lady on August 1, 2007

Hi Evil HR Lady,

I need your help!

This will be the first year my company uses SMART approach to do the performance management. As a manager, I am supposed to set up measurable objectives for my subordinates. It’s not a problem for me to set up measurable objectives for my assistant managers as they have deadlines to meet. But when it comes to my secretary and the clerical staff, I am not sure how to set measurable goals for them as their duties are very routine and tedious. Could you give me some examples?

First, let’s talk about the SMART method. This is where performance criteria are based on the following:

T–Time Frame

The Evil One (who apparently has taken to referring to herself in the 3rd person. She promises this will stop shortly) finds this a downright delightful method of doing performance appraisals and goal setting. (Which should be done in the reverse order, but I find backspacing so tedious.)

It can be difficult to do the first time around. Here’s a question that you can ask yourself to help you get started:

How do you know if [insert position]is doing a good job?

As you begin the objective setting process as yourself this question. Then really think about it. Let’s see, you know your secretary is doing a good job when he is on time to work, promptly sorts mail, keeps your schedule, arranges teleconferences and travel, produces monthly reports and runs interference when you want to avoid your boss.

Let’s do two of these as SMART objectives

First, an easy one–Produces Monthly Reports:

Specific–Secretary will produce Reports A, B, and C

Measurable–Reports A, B, and C will be formatted according to guidelines and contain zero errors

Achievable–yes, reports are standard and not complex, 100% accuracy is possible

Relevant–yes, this goal applies to the job of secretary

Time Frame–reports will be produced by the 5th of each month

Keeps Boss’s Schedule–A little more difficult.

Specific–Secretary will schedule meetings, ensure boss’s knowledge of such meetings, work with other administrative staff to coordinate schedules. There is a problem here–not specific or measurable enough. Let’s try again

Specific (revised)–Secretary will schedule meetings on same day of request and provide written schedule on boss’s desk for next day by 5:00 p.m. previous day.

Measurable: Secretary will keep a spreadsheet of meeting request, time requested, and time scheduled to track turn around time. 100% success rate expected. Boss responsible for tracking schedule on desk.

Achievable–No way. Anyone whose ever tried to schedule meetings knows that getting all relevant parties available at the same time is like herding cats. To require a secretary to get all meetings scheduled on the same days as requested would lead to guaranteed failure and your secretary wouldn’t like you. Revise the success rate to 75% and then you have an achievable, yet still difficult, goal.

Relevant–Yes. This is a core responsibility and something the secretary should have control over.

Time Frame–Yes. Daily requirements and specific deadlines (same day, 5:00 p.m.)

Hopefully this helps get you started. Just remember–how will you know when this person is successful?

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Founder: Lea Setegn August 2, 2007 at 12:11 pm

Anyone whose ever tried to schedule meetings knows that getting all relevant parties available at the same time is like herding cats.


When I applied for my current administrative position, I asked my now-supervisor what success looked like for this position. She said that it took constant communication to be successful, to keep everyone up to date on each of my projects, and that missing a deadline would be OK as long as people knew well ahead of time. Translating that into a SMART goal might be difficult, but it would be worth doing, because communication skills are highly important in positions such as mine.


Wally Bock August 2, 2007 at 10:28 pm

This is not specifically within the framework you’re using, but I hope it will be helpful. It’s what I teach supervisors.

There are at most six or seven key tasks for any job. You must know what they are and how to describe good and bad performance. You must also know your people, their ability to perform each task without close supervision, and their general willingness to pitch in without follow-up.

Then you need to agree on the following.

Behavior or performance. What is to be done?

Timing. When is it to be done, measured or reviewed?

Measurement. How will we know if it’s done well? Who will decide? This is important because some measures of performance are necessarily subjective.

Consequences. What are the consequences of good and bad behavior or performance?

Control. How much control will you allow your subordinate to make the basic choices about when and how the task will be done.


Ask a Manager August 2, 2007 at 10:48 pm

Great post. Having concrete, truly measurable objectives can dramatically improve an organization’s performance, because everyone is on the same page about what success will look like. You’re not leaving anything to the imagination, and people always know how well they’re doing and whether or not they’re meeting/exceeding/missing their goals. (It also makes it easier to spot problems and coach out low performers.)


Stephen August 3, 2007 at 10:42 am

Hi Evil HR Lady

I just wanted to say as a recruitment consultant, I do enjoy your witty posts.

when I started in recruitment 20 years ago I was trained to never speak to HR, how things have change.

Although I gave you a mention on my blog, I want to say I do not find HR so evil, with many becoming good friends, just so you don’t get the wrong idea!

Mind you in the UK we must drive HR up the wall!!


Anonymous August 7, 2007 at 1:43 am

I’d be more impressed w/(our implementation of?) SMART if the employees weren’t the ones generating the objectives. Yes, yes, the supervisors must review them, but generally they have as much interest in doing this as the employees do.

Are we cutting our own throats? Probably. But since most everybody else is doing the same things I am, that is, making up SMART objectives that I can be sure I’ll meet, the evaluation process ends up the same way, with management in a room, making perfectly rational decisions about salaries. (no. i’m serious, not sarcastic. i think the Evil One is exactly right about how salaries are determined)

Never having been privy to any of these discussions, I fantasize that maybe, just maybe, the discussions revolve around: if we had to cut people, who would we cut last…..


Rocket May 11, 2011 at 6:53 pm

Great post, I've been using the smart goals system to great success in my personal life. I completed a round of p90x(workout program) with the help of smart and really feel like I accomplished something. That's just my two cents.


sabira July 12, 2011 at 4:38 pm

Hi Evel HR Lady,

I'm making SMART objectives for my HR department, out of which one is " To enhance human resource organizational capability and performance through development of organizational structure, policies and their processes."

My question is how do we are going to measure this? through successful implementation of the process???


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Nnedinma March 30, 2015 at 12:13 pm

i am a HR Operations/Business Partner in my Organisation, what do you think should my objectives?


micromanagementoverload April 13, 2016 at 7:51 pm

In my opinion, it is just ridiculous to make people come up with SMART goals for menial tasks that they’ve been doing forever. If it’s not broke, leave it alone. This is all just more micromanaging that has become commonplace in the business world. Years ago, things were never this way. People knew what was expected of them, they came to work, did the job and went home.


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