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Goals & OKRs

Your complete guide to SMART goals (with examples & a free template)

Leapsome Team
Your complete guide to SMART goals (with examples & a free template)
Build a high-performing and resilient organization with Leapsome
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Most professionals realize the importance of establishing workplace goals. They spur great performance, increase motivation, align teams, boost engagement levels, and even drive profitability. However, the majority of companies still fail to set effective objectives: 51% of organizations don’t even attempt to develop aligned goals (1), leading to 1 in 3 employees being unsatisfied with internal goal setting (2) and as many as 90% of businesses not achieving their strategic objectives (3).

There’s certainly a disconnect between how vital people think putting productive goals in place is and how often companies do it well.

The well-known SMART guidelines constitute one strategy that ambitious, dynamic organizations can use to start setting better goals that are equal parts meaningful, realistic, and actionable. In this article, we’ll not only explain what SMART goals are, but we’ll also provide you with a free, downloadable SMART goal template and discuss a couple of detailed examples.

  1. Phoenix Business Journal, 2020
  2. Leapsome Workforce Trends Report, 2023
  3. Economist Impact, 2021
💡 Want to make your goals SMART?

Simply download our free SMART goal template and we’ll help you write your own.

Download the template

What are SMART goals?

SMART is a framework that enables people to establish goals that are both actionable and achievable. That’s because it prompts them to carefully define and evaluate their objectives, while also helping them keep track of their progress along the way. SMART goals were initially developed in the 1980s by George T. Doran, but the world has seen several versions and iterations since then.

As defined in Dr. Osahon Ogbeiwi’s 2017 study on SMART goals: “Writing objectives as SMART statements is the gold standard for goal setting because it gives a clear direction for action planning and implementation.”

SMART goals are popular in professional contexts such as project management and performance management, but some also use them for personal development. Most importantly, the framework is popular because it’s easy for just about anyone to use, doesn’t require any specific training, and makes goal setting a more structured process. The SMART acronym is most commonly broken down as follows:

S — Specific

M — Measurable

A — Achievable

R — Relevant

T — Time-bound

💡Pro tip: SMART goals and objectives and key results (OKRs) are two of the most common professional goal-setting frameworks. If you’re curious about the differences between SMART goals and OKRs, we’ve got a detailed article dedicated to just that topic.

Leapsome’s SMART goal setting template

Many professionals have a general understanding of what SMART goals are and what the acronym means, but they nevertheless find it hard to put the criteria into action when establishing their own objectives. This template will get you on the right track by proposing a series of reflective questions that’ll empower you to set goals that are more specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

🧠 Never set a SMART goal before?

Our convenient free template includes the top questions you should ask yourself when formulating yours.

Download the template

The breakdown: How to develop your own SMART goals

Though the SMART guidelines are known for their simplicity, many people still have trouble putting them into action. It might sound great to develop objectives that are measurable and relevant, but how does that look in practice?

Let’s break down what each part of the SMART acronym stands for and consider how to integrate it into your goal-setting process in a meaningful way.


Many people make the mistake of establishing objectives that are too vague or that they haven’t defined and reflected on sufficiently. This is a serious misstep: Unclear goals are far more difficult to reach, because you won’t really understand what you’re working toward.

They’re also less motivating and satisfying, since you can’t clearly visualize what you’re striving for. This was proven as early as 1976, when a famous study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology on goal clarity, goal setting participation, and job satisfaction found that the more specific people’s goals are, the more motivated they become. That, in turn, increases the likelihood of individuals accomplishing their objectives successfully.

When developing your own SMART goals, ask yourself the following questions to make your objective more specific:

  • What’s the most precise version of my goal?
    (Remember to account for the who, what, where, when, and why.)
  • What will my goal accomplish?
  • What granular actions will I have to take to reach my goal?


A screenshot of Goals dashboard within Leapsome’s Goals module.
With our Goals module, users can upload their goals, specify the type, track their advancement, and prompt colleagues for feedback

Next, define how you’ll monitor your progress while working toward your goal and, ultimately, how you’ll know when you’ve been successful. It’s also ideal to leverage goal-setting software like Leasome to streamline the way you keep track of your advancement and connect your objectives with those of the team and company.

In his 2013 study Making SMART Goals Smarter, Les Macload underlines some of the reasons why building measurable goals is so crucial: “Specific measurement criteria will eliminate the possibility of future disagreements. Also implicit in the measurement criteria is the important concept of accountability. It’s much more difficult to avoid accountability when measurement criteria are clear and not subject to interpretation.”

Consider the following questions to transform your goal into something more measurable:

  • How will I know when I’ve achieved my goal?
  • How will I keep track of my progress while I’m working toward my goal?
  • Will I leverage any specific metrics to monitor how I’m moving toward my goal? Which ones and why?


Any objective should be at least a little bit ambitious, but consider whether you’ll realistically be able to accomplish your goal with the time and resources you have and the situation you’re currently in. There’s no point in establishing a goal that you won’t be able to follow through on, as it’ll be both frustrating and demotivating.

Indeed, a 2020 study from the Queen Mary University of London found that when people consider the effort that’s necessary to achieve a goal and focus on the rewards of those efforts in the long term, they’ll be more likely to accomplish their objective.

Keisha Moore-Medina, a therapist at the Menninger Clinic in Houston, TX, specializes in goal setting. In an NPR article, she further explains why setting achievable goals is so vital: “It’s a reality check on just how much time and resources you have to devote to it. And, it sometimes begs a bigger question: ‘Why should I commit to this goal?’”

Try reflecting on these questions to check that your goal is achievable:

  • Do I have the skills, time, and/or resources I need to achieve my goal?
  • If not, can I acquire them or get additional assistance?


Now, think about why the goal you’re establishing should be prioritized above other potential pursuits. If you’d like to set a target for career growth, consider how it fits in with your present professional situation. Imagine you’ve been thinking of learning Spanish. If you’d like to eventually pursue a transfer to the Spanish branch of the company, this would make it an important and time-sensitive goal. If your interest is not tied to a current need for the language, it would be better for your professional development to focus on other, more immediate objectives and consider learning Spanish as a longer-term personal development goal.

There’s also another aspect to this guideline. Even if your goal might not immediately appear relevant to your current professional situation, intentionally reflecting on its relevance will give you a chance to dig into and justify why it actually does deserve priority at that time.

These questions can help ensure your goal’s relevancy:

  • Why am I establishing this goal now? 
  • How does my goal fit with my short and long-term professional objectives?
  • How is this goal helpful or meaningful to me?


Last, define when you want to fulfill your goal. It’s essential to specify the timeframe for effective goal setting as it’ll encourage your focus on this target within a certain period and let you know whether you’re on track with the initial time estimate. To avoid having to adjust the timeline as you go, consider defining deadlines for different milestones — especially if you’re pursuing a more complex objective.

Les Macload discusses why ‘time-bound’ is an essential part of the SMART goal framework in his 2013 study: “As soon as possible is simply not an acceptable time frame. Without a predetermined deadline, there’s only a general notion about due dates, which in turn generates a less than rigorous pursuit of closure. Where there’s only a loose expectation of closure, prioritizations and associated time management requirements are more apt to lack needed discipline.”

The following questions will prompt you to add a time-bound element to your goal:

  • When do I want to achieve my goal?
  • Does my goal encompass several milestones, or is there one solid deadline? What are they?
  • Are the milestones and/or deadlines I’m establishing for my goal realistic?
🤝 We’ll help you write your own SMART goals

Our template uses intentionally designed questions to guide you from vague aspirations to detailed objectives

👉 Download the template

2 examples of professional SMART goals in action

Now that we’ve discussed what SMART goals are and provided you with the template and complementary information you need to begin writing yours, let’s consider a couple of examples of how SMART goals can look in professional settings to give you some initial ideas.

1. Build a remote freelancer onboarding process

In this case, let’s imagine that a team lead needs to create an onboarding process for remote freelancers. They’re working with freelancers more and more and have realized that their current approach to onboarding isn’t ideal for remote workers.

Now, let’s improve this goal with the SMART guidelines:

  • Specific — I’ll revise our current approach to freelancer onboarding, discuss it with colleagues and community members and ask for their input, do my own industry research, determine which aspects I can keep and which aspects I need to change, and share the finished result with the people team for a last review.
A screenshot of an bubble chart interface within Leaspome's Goals module. It shows sentiment analysis from a recent survey.
Our Surveys module’s sentiment analysis capabilities make it easy to spot trends in qualitative survey comments
  • Measurable — Once new hires have gone through their first 90 days with the company, I’ll send them an employee survey on the onboarding process and ask for their feedback on it. Leapsome’s Surveys module will analyze their responses and use the resulting data to keep track of onboarding satisfaction rates. I’ll also rely on the Instant Feedback module to prompt team members for input on their experience with freelancers who have gone through the revamped onboarding program and investigate whether they seem more informed and better equipped to carry out their work than before.
  • Achievable — I have the skills and resources I need to build an excellent onboarding process for remote freelancers. The leadership team agrees that we need a revamped onboarding approach for remote freelancers. They’ve given me the okay to time block an hour and a half each day to work on this, which will provide me with the time I need.
  • Relevant — We’ve been working with an increasing number of freelancers over the last quarter, and it’s become clear to me and the broader team that our current onboarding approach isn’t adequately preparing them for their work or meeting their needs.
  • Time-bound — I’d like to have the new remote freelancer onboarding process ready to upload into our project management software one month from now. I’ll need approximately two weeks to take stock of the situation and do my research, a week to come up with an initial draft, and another week to ask colleagues to give it a final review.

Of course, it’s not realistic to include all those details in the final SMART goal, but consider how much more reflection, intention, and planning went into the SMART version of this objective when compared with the initial idea. The finished SMART goal might look something like this:

  • Revamp our onboarding process for remote freelancers over the next month to better integrate rising numbers of them into our workflows, prepare them to effectively collaborate and carry out their work sooner, and increase their satisfaction rates.

2. Improve attention to detail

Now, let’s consider a marketing team member who’s been with the organization for a year. Overall, they’re performing well, but in the recent review with their manager, they collaboratively decided that they needed to improve their attention to detail skills.

Let’s consider how to elevate that goal with SMART guidelines:

  • Specific — I know that my work is strong in general, but it could be made even better if I was more thorough and meticulous in my attention to detail. More specifically, I want to learn more about our company’s tone of voice (TOV) and try out strategies to ensure the marketing content I produce aligns with it more consistently. I also struggle with unclear writing and typos from time to time, which I find hard to correct with self-editing alone, so I’d like to focus on that as well.
  • Measurable — I’ll refer to my Q4 performance review scores to gauge how well I’m progressing toward this goal. For Q3, my skills in this field were rated slightly “below expectations,” and in Q4, I’d like to be rated as “consistently meeting expectations.” I’ll also ask my colleagues for peer assessments and informal feedback on my attention to detail to get a more balanced, nuanced view of my development.
A screenshot of an interface within Leapsome’s Instant Feedback module that shows team members providing feedback to a colleague.
Leapsome’s Instant Feedback module enables employees to request feedback from their colleagues on the specific skills they want to work on
  • Achievable — I’m performing well overall and my manager and peers had actionable recommendations for growth in this category, so I’m well-positioned to improve over a relatively short period with a combination of learning materials, 1:1 check-ins, and coaching and shadowing sessions with colleagues and more senior team members.
  • Relevant — This is the competency where I need to improve the most, so it makes sense to prioritize. Once I excel in all the performance categories that are relevant to my current role, I’ll be able to progress through my department’s career development framework and work toward an eventual promotion.
  • Time-bound — I’d like to work on this consistently throughout Q4 and make an improvement before my quarterly performance assessment.

Considering all the information above, the marketing team member’s SMART goal could be:

  • Improve my attention to detail during Q4 using a combination of learning activities, development-focused check-ins, coaching, and shadowing sessions, and reach a score showing that I “consistently meet expectations” on my next quarterly performance review.
💭 Need guidance developing SMART goals?

Our free, downloadable SMART goal template will prompt you to consider all the necessary details for complete, actionable objectives. 

Download the template

Elevate your goal-setting & tracking process with Leapsome

A screenshot of the analytics interface within Leapsome’s Goals module.
Our Goals module allows users to visualize how their goal progress aligns with both team and company objectives, providing context and motivation

Goal setting is crucial for people-centered, forward-thinking organizations that want to motivate and engage employees, foster a collaborative work environment, and drive great performance. However, many leaders fail to support their people in defining goals that are both challenging and achievable, which leads to them missing out on top-level results.

As we’ve seen, SMART guidelines are one strategy that professionals can use to establish effective goals across all levels of their organization. However, it’s even better to use holistic goal-setting software like Leapsome to set, collaborate on, track, and revise individual, team, and company goals.

Our Goals module supports different goals frameworks — including SMART and OKRs — and enables users to visualize their progress, prompt colleagues for feedback, and align their aspirations with company objectives.

Leapsome knows that establishing great goals is one thing, but leveraging intelligent software to meaningfully integrate them into people’s day-to-day workflows will take their impact to new heights.

⚡ Supercharge your SMART goals

Leapsome’s Goals module integrates with Reviews, Instant Feedback, and Meetings to enrich the goal-tracking progress, promote collaboration, and foster success.

Book a demo

 FAQs about SMART goals

1. What are the benefits of a SMART goal?

There are several benefits to SMART goals. Some of the most significant ones are simple: The framework is easy for anyone to use, doesn’t require specific training, and prompts people to carefully consider their goals while they’re establishing them, which leads to better, more achievable objectives. More specifically, the SMART goal approach enables professionals to:

  • Cut through the noise, reflect on what they want to accomplish, and get precise about their aspirations
  • Strike a balance by setting targets that are both realistic and challenging
  • Define specific metrics and criteria to help measure goal progress and success
  • Reflect on how their goals align with the company’s big-picture objectives and long-term success
  • Break down goals into milestones and set deadlines that are both sensible and motivating

2. How do SMART goals help employees?

SMART goals help employees because they’re more intentional, actionable, and achievable than the basic goals people come up with in brainstorming sessions. The beauty of the SMART framework is that it provides people with simple, easy-to-use guidelines that prompt them to carefully consider their goals anddefine how they’ll keep track of their success. This process results in employees establishing more gratifying goals that are aligned with their current priorities and realistic for them to attain.

3. OKRs vs. SMART goals: Which is more effective?

The question shouldn’t be whether OKRs or SMART goals are more effective. Instead, focus on determining which of the two goal-setting frameworks better suits your circumstances and fulfills your needs. To help you make that decision, here are some of the biggest differences between OKRs and SMART goals:

  • SMART goals follow a set of guidelines, whereas OKRs are based on a structured framework.
  • SMART goals focus on the how, whereas OKRs focus on the why.
  • SMART goals are better for short-term and smaller projects, whereas OKRs are best for long-term goals.
  • SMART goals are more fixed because of their short-term nature, whereas OKRs are often evaluated and adjusted over time.
  • SMART goals are ideal for single-metric targets, whereas OKRs work well with multi-metric objectives.

Written By

Leapsome Team

Written by the team at Leapsome — the all-in-one people enablement platform for driving employee engagement, performance, and learning.
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