Setting SMART Objectives

Get your learning and change programs off to the best start by defining and agreeing SMART objectives with stakeholders.

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Define SMART Objectives

Whether your organization is about to embark on a major learning initiative or a change program, well designed and effective projects begin with clearly stated business goals. As a program leader, you will need to meet with the key stakeholders to thrash out the desired objectives of your training or change program.

Target as your primary meeting outcome a clear definition of what it is your organization wants to achieve with the help of the learning or change initiative. Frame the organizational objective so that it meets the criteria for being a SMART objective. According to the SMART way of defining objectives, each goal should be:

Specific
Clearly define in unambiguous terms the scope of the objective, such as which region, which department, which machine, which employees.
Measurable
Describe how success will look to a dispassionate observer. Use numbers, such as quantity produced, error rate or survey scores.
Achievable
The objective should be ambitious, yet within the reach of the organization given the resources and time allocated. An unrealistic objective will certainly lead to a failed training or change program.
Relevant
Relate the objective to the broader strategic and/or operational objectives of the organization. Avoid objectives that do not contribute directly to the end game.
Time framed
State the point in time that the objective will be achieved by, such as end of financial year.

The main advantage to be gained from defining your objectives as SMART goals is that once you and your management team start using it, wooly, nebulous thinking goes out the door. Everyone knows what everyone else means. And when it comes time to evaluate whether the objectives were met, you will all have a clearly graduated ruler to put up against your results.

Apply the above SMART test to the organizational objectives related to your training or change project. Examples of poorly stated objectives include the following:

  • enhance the buying experience of our customers
  • produce more value-add products
  • build a more productive work environment
  • create more happy customers
  • hire people who fit in with our work culture
  • improve leadership skills

These are fine as broadly stated strategic objectives. However, for underpinning effective learning and change programs, they need to be fleshed out. Our resource kit, Writing Learning Outcomes, will take you step by step through the process of creating SMART learning objectives for your program.

SMART Goals Examples

Below are some examples of SMART goals discussed at stakeholder meetings during the objectives-setting phase of an important project. In the first scenario, the stakeholder group teased out what the objective, "improve leadership skills", means in terms of measurable results. After some debate, two options were put on the table:

All Division Heads publish in the company newsletter a Mission and Vision statement for their Division by end of year.

All frontline managers in the New Products division achieve a minimum score of 3 on the end of financial year Leadership multi-rater survey.

The two groups working on the options worked hard to ensure that their proposal passed the test for SMART goals. Each goal specifies which company leaders are included within the scope of the objective, each contains an objectively observable measure of success, each is achievable given the company constraints, each is directly related to the strategic area of improving leadership skills and each contains a target date. It was then up to the stakeholders to adopt the goal that best matched their circumstances.

Our Managing Change in the Workplace guide and workbook can assist you and your stakeholders clarify your wants and help you navigate the change.

The second scenario focused on the vague objective, "create more happy customers". The stakeholder team involved considered two SMART objectives:

For the next quarterly reporting period, reduce the number of registered customer service complaints in the South-East Region by 30%.

Increase the average customer satisfaction index score to 4.5, as measured by the next Ajax annual customer survey.

Once again, both of these objectives satisfy the criteria for being a SMART goal.

Our third example tackles the undefined objective, "hire people who fit in with our work culture". Two possibilities considered by the stakeholder group were:

Increase the proportion of all new employees starting next financial year and who stay beyond six months by 50%.

Raise the workplace culture score on our next company-wide annual employee engagement survey to a value of 3.5.

Notice how these two options put two very different interpretations on the vague wish to hire people who fit in with the company's work culture. This is a good illustration of the critical importance you need to place on ensuring that all program goals are SMART goals. Otherwise, as the program unfolds, confusion can reign supreme as the various meanings come to the surface.

Get your key stakeholders to think about the various interpretations of their stated objectives. Work with them to decide which of the interpretations best matches their situation and what they really want to achieve. Last of all, apply the SMART test to see whether their declared objectives are SMART goals. You can them move with confidence to the next steps in your change program or learning design.

Expert View Author: AIMM MAITD

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Writing Learning Outcomes

For a step-by-step guide on writing SMART learning objectives for your training program, check out our learning outcomes resource book. As you complete each step in the guide, you will write the results for your particular training project in the workbook provided. When you have finished working through the workbook, you will have a complete set of documented learning objectives for your project.

Writing Learning Outcomes

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Writing Learning Outcomes

Check out our practical guide for developing powerful training course objectives.

Writing Learning Outcomes

Includes customizable Microsoft Word learning outcomes templates.

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