Collaborative Coaching: SMART Objectives

S - Smart, M - Measurable, A - Achievable, R - Relevant, T - Time ConstrainedHaving a SMART objective to discuss in a coaching conversation provides a useful focal point. It clarifies the overall purpose of a work-based coaching conversation, which is to improve or maintain performance.

An objective is a written statement of intent. It clearly describes what measurable actions or tasks an individual, team or organization wants to achieve within a specified time period.

There can be hard objectives or soft objectives. A hard objective is when a quantifiable output is to be achieved. An example of a hard objective is a 10% increase in student numbers in the Accounting degree program. It is difficult to attach a quantifiable number to a soft objective. Descriptions are often the best way of setting soft objectives.

You may also have objectives related to developing skills or knowledge. For example: John is to attend an advanced Excel training course by Sept 09 to enable him to use macro-commands to speed up data analysis in Finance Department.

What are the benefits of SMART objectives?

  • Give direction to an individual’s work
  • Ensure that it is clear what tasks an individual is expected to focus on
  • Make clear the standards to which individuals are expected to perform in their role
  • Clarify priorities and the relative importance of tasks and activities
  • Clarify the purpose of the role and its place and contribution in the team or department
  • Provide an opportunity to think systematically about all aspects of the job and performance
  • Provide a basis for discussing how people are doing
  • Provide an agenda for professional & personal development

SMART Objectives


  • Clear and meaningful to those contributing to its attainment so misunderstandings are minimized
  • Clearly written, leaving little room for doubt or ambiguity
  • Stating an outcome and not simply an activity
  • Specifying a single key result to be achieved
  • Containing a verb and an object – i.e. what is to be accomplished/end result/value added by the activity
  • Containing a standards component indicating expected level of activity or outcome


  • Capable of verification so that progress can be monitored
  • Quantified in terms of numbers and/or standards wherever possible
  • Broad or narrow: Work objectives can be broad or narrow in scope. For broader objectives (e.g. ‘upgrade and improve the capacity and resilience of the student portal’), the measurement criteria will need to be specified with particular care so that progress and performance can be evaluated. For example, install x by y time.
  • Where quantification is not possible, other success criteria could be devised
  • Results versus activity: Work is a process with a result or outcome. Results and activity/action are not the same. Both results objectives and activity objectives can be valid but they should not be confused. Both should reflect, in measurable terms, the results of/value-added by the activity. Furthermore, people may perceive ends (end results) and means (activities to achieve end results) differently depending on their position in the organization. One is a measure of outcome – Have you achieved what you set out to achieve? The other is an example of an “in- process measure” – Are you achieving what you set out to achieve? It is not enough, when setting objectives, simply to discuss WHAT must be achieved and HOW. The person must also understand the larger context: WHY the achievement is important and where it fits into the team and organizational context.


  • Challenging and interesting. One that lacks sufficient challenge may lead to boredom
  • Exciting wherever possible, but realistic. An objective that is not achievable may cause a lack of motivation
  • Account for factors beyond the individual’s control
  • Job holders should have necessary skill and knowledge to achieve objectives, or be able to acquire them quickly as part of personal development needs identified
  • Consistent with available resources
  • Serve as a motivational or developmental tool for the individual


  • Have a real application and benefit within the organization
  • Be within job holder’s authority to deliver
  • May be developmental to allow people to move to different roles


  • Indicate target dates (start and end), milestones, timescales or deadlines
  • Where a specific timescale is not applicable, a statement such as ‘at all times’, ‘in accordance with established procedures’ etc. should be used.

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