At work you have probably been involved in setting, measuring, and evaluating progress in meeting goals. These goals may have been set for your particular position, or perhaps they were established for your unit or organization as a whole.

Our focus for this project is on setting goals designed to help you achieve your professional aspirations. Thus, before creating one or more SMART goals it is important to envision and clarify how you see your career progressing, the career path you wish to take to make this possible, and the personal competencies you believe will be important to get you where you want to be. Begin this process by writing a three- to four-sentence statement that summarizes your career aspirations and priorities.

Next, create and implement SMART goals to help you achieve the future you envision for yourself. The SMART model is described below, followed by an example and an explanation of some of its limitations.

Specific—Your goal should be sufficiently specific, such that you identify what you want to achieve, when, where, and why.

Measurable—You need to be able to measure and verify your progress in achieving your goal.

Achievable—Many of us have experience setting a goal that we eventually realize wasn’t really achievable, and it is important to reduce this risk. One approach is to discuss your goals with a mentor, coach, or someone you trust to give you honest and objective feedback.

Relevant—It should be easy to see the connection between your SMART goals and your longer term career and professional aspirations.

Time-bound (timely)—An important criterion for setting an effective SMART goal is that you indicate when it will be accomplished. Be specific about this and include mileposts and deadlines.


A broad (longer-term) career goal might be to achieve a position as a senior project leader within the next two years. Competencies needed for this position include advanced knowledge and skills related to creating and sustaining high-performing teams.

To achieve the objective of advanced knowledge, an associated SMART goal might be to read a minimum of six articles (M) by leading team scholars (S) by the end of this semester (T) and create a one-page personal briefing note (A) that captures the main lessons learned, along with follow-up actions (R).

To gain advanced skills, an associated SMART goal might be to practice active listening skills (S) with team members, arrange to obtain feedback on this practice from a team buddy (M), and include results and follow-up actions in a one-page briefing note (A & R) while working with a team to complete a project (T).


One criticism of the SMART goal is that this approach may not be useful for those in positions or organizations requiring high levels of flexibility and innovation. Prather (2005) notes that innovation necessitates outside-the-box thinking, and the somewhat inflexible nature of SMART goals makes them less appropriate in settings where major innovations or breakthroughs are needed.


Prather, C. W. (2005). The dumb thing about SMART goals for innovation. Research Technology Management, 48(5), 14-15. Retrieved from