Using the SMART acronym can help ensure that managers and employees share the same understanding of goals set during performance review conversations.

Specific Measurable Achievable Relevant Time-bound

As you create goals, answer the following questions to be sure that you are following the SMART approach:

  • What is specific about the goal?
  • Is the goal measurable? (How will you know the goal has been achieved?)
  • Is the goal achievable?
  • Is the goal relevant to performance expectations or professional development?
  • Is the goal time-bound? (How often will this task be done? Or, by when will this goal be accomplished?)

Here is a sample goal:

Keep our department's web page up-to-date.

Does this meet the SMART criteria? What does "up-to-date" mean? How can the employee and manager be sure that they are working to the same standard? How can each of them know that the employee has met this goal?

The following is a revised goal that meets the SMART criteria:

The first Friday of every month, solicit updates and new material from our department's managers for the web page; publish this new material no later than the following Friday. Each time new material is published, review our department's web page for material that is out-of-date, and delete or archive that material.

The revised goal is:

At a specific time solicit updates from a specific group of people, and at a specific time revise the web page.

Were updates solicited on schedule? Was the web page updated on schedule? These are both yes or no questions.

This requires some conversation—are the updates too frequent? What should the employee do if managers fail to respond? What other time-sensitive work is this employee responsible for? With conversation, it should be possible to set a shared, achievable standard for updating the department's web page.

The goal needs to tie into the employee's key responsibilities and be relevant to the mission of the department.

This sample goal does not end with a particular action or event but carries forward until the employee's next review, or until it is changed for other reasons. Some goals might be time-bound by setting a deadline for the project or task to be completed. For example, "By March 31, include photos of the new graduate students on our web page."