Best Practices for Achieving Talent Success Maturity

Creating Goals: A Simple Guide for Managers and Employees

With insight from

Tim McRay

Tim McRay

Graduate Instructor of Organizational Strategy & Strategic Marketing at Northwood University

Tim McRay began managing people at age 17 and has over 20 years of experience in administration, operational leadership, and executive positions. Tim has successfully filled functional leadership roles with Fortune 100 companies, including Blue Cross-Blue Shield, Citi, and Mercedes-Benz. He is now an independent advisor to companies seeking improvement in organizational strategy, performance, leadership development, and culture.

Tim holds a Bachelor of Business Management degree, an MBA in Marketing, and a Master’s Degree in Leadership Theory. He is an instructor of Organizational Strategy and Strategic Marketing in the DeVoss Graduate School of Business at Northwood University and teaches Business Administration and Human Resource Management at Southern New Hampshire University. Tim has also served as a guest lecturer for the University of Texas at Arlington MBA Program and the University of North Texas Professional Leadership Program.

Tim has previously served as a board member for Junior Achievement of North Texas, the Professional Leadership Program at the University of North Texas, Trumpets for Kids, and the Texas Diversity Council. He is a frequent speaker and contributor to local civic organizations, nonprofits, churches, and small businesses.

In his personal time, Tim is focused on creating time and life experiences for Julie, his wife of over 20 years, and their children Collin and Chloe.

  • Who it’s for: 
    HR, managers, and employees
  • What you’ll get: 
    A SMART goals template
  • Why you need it: 
    To set productive goals for your employees
  • When it applies in the talent success process: 
    As close to the date of hire as possible

Creating SMART Goals

Creating goals for your employees is the first step in ensuring success for them and for their roles in your company. The most effective goals are easy to understand for the employee and their managers. One of the most widely used methods for this is the SMART goal, which can be used for most employee roles in any type of business. First introduced in 1981, SMART goals have five key characteristics:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time-bound

Creating SMART goals elevates your employee’s goal from “I want to sell a lot of widgets” to “I want to sell 200 widgets in the third quarter of this year by making 50 calls a day.” By creating goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound, employees will have a much clearer vision of their path to success and how they can help your company achieve its bigger goals.

Tim McRay

Tim’s Take

I’ve never worked with an organization that has not used SMART goals. Many people are able to talk about them at length, but they may not actually be using them correctly.

A key to SMART goals is to get an understanding of what the model is and understand the practicality and usefulness in achieving that goal. It then needs to change from a model into a process management approach that requires and ensures follow-up and accountability.

The most successful companies tend to approach SMART goals from three perspectives:

  1. Start with the employee who is going to be responsible for completion of that goal, and make sure they are able to identify and deliver the SMART elements of that goal.
  2. Apply the goal from the SMART model to those of the organization and ensure alignment.
  3. Apply the SMART goal to the customer. A goal can be very SMART for an employee or an organization, but if the customer doesn’t feel the effectiveness of the goal, then the outcome is at risk of being misguided or missing the mark.

The employee and the organization need to be able to answer why they are striving to hit this goal and understand what happens after they hit that goal.

Finally, even when you use SMART goals, don’t be afraid to fail. I always try to remind people to prepare for what some might call “failure” but what should be viewed as learning. By definition, a goal should be something we may or may not be capable of achieving. This means we may “fail.” I often think of that famous Thomas Edison quote when describing his creation of the light bulb, “I have not failed. I simply identified 10,000 ways not to create a light bulb.” That’s 100 percent true. Always strive to pursue progress over perfection.

— Tim McRay, Graduate Instructor of Organizational Strategy & Strategic Marketing at Northwood University

Creating Specific Goals

When get as specific as possible with an employee’s goals, they have a better chance for success, experience less ambiguity with their job, and have a better understanding of how they are meeting expectations within the company. Specific goals can identify people involved, location, time frame, requirements, constraints, and purpose. Ultimately, specific goals lay out what you want your employee to accomplish with their job.

Do This: Sell 200 [how many] widgets [what] in the third quarter of this year [when] by making 50 calls a day [how].

Not That: Be a top salesperson by Q3.

Creating Measurable Goals

Breaking a goal down into measurable elements will create concrete takeaways from your goals. Measurable goals have at least one number tied to them and are not feelings-based. They help measure progress, keep employees on track, and usually define target dates of completion. Measurable goals also answer how much or how many of something.

Do This: Increase the number of unique visits per month [time frame] to our company’s website by 20 percent, from 1,500 visits to 1,800 visits [how much], by the end of the second quarter [date of completion].

Not That: Get a lot of website visitors per month.

Creating Achievable Goals

Achievable goals require the employer to be realistic about the employee’s time, effort, resources, and other costs associated with achieving the goal. Achievable goals can start small. Over time, your employees will start to notice how their goals are progressing. Goals that may not have seemed achievable long ago can start to become a reality.

Do This: Talk to 20 prospects a day to get five qualified leads per week.

Not That: Get 20 qualified leads in my sales pipeline every week.

Creating Realistic Goals

To create a realistic goal for your employee, they must be able and willing to do the work. Unrealistic goals will create a feeling of futility with the employee, and goals should ultimately be used to drive an employee’s engagement. Creating a realistic goal gives the employee something to strive for that they know they can achieve.

Do This: Increase sales by 30 percent over last year.

Not That: Double last year’s sales.

Creating Time-bound Goals

Time-bound goals create a sense of urgency for your employee and for your department. Goals without timelines tend to float around and get pushed down on the list of priorities. Setting a clear time frame for your employee’s goals will help them measure their progress.

Do This: Implement our new applicant tracking software by the end of Q2.

Not That: Implement our new applicant tracking software.

Putting It All Together: Creating SMART Goals

Once you’re ready to create your employees’ goals, consider the following questions:

  • Is this goal Specific?
  • Is this goal Measurable?
  • Is this goal Achievable?
  • Is this goal Realistic?
  • Is this goal Time-bound?

If the answer to all of these is “yes,” then you have a truly effective goal that will empower your employees and assist them in achieving your company’s overarching goals.

There are other models for creating goals. If you understand how to create SMART goals, you can create goals using those other models, as well.

A Template for Creating SMART Goals

Below is a sample template for creating SMART goals.

Goal: I want to be the best widget salesperson possible for my company.

  • Who is involved?
  • Where is this located?
  • What is the time frame?
  • What are the requirements?
  • What are the constraints?
  • What is the purpose?
I want to sell 200 widgets in the third quarter of this year by making 50 calls a day.
  • How much?
  • How many?
  • Over what period of time?
  • How will I know I accomplished my goal?
I want to sell 200 widgets in the third quarter of this year by making 50 calls a day.
  • Do I have time for this?
  • Can I put in the effort for this?
  • Can I build on this?
  • What steps should I take?
I will set aside four hours a day to call 50 people. I will achieve this with the help of call center technology.
  • Am I willing to do this?
  • Am I able to do this?

I want to do this because selling at this rate will help my company reach its overall goal of increasing sales by 20 percent over last year.

I am able to do this because of my call center technology and training.

  • Does this have a sense of urgency?
  • When is the deadline?
I want to sell 200 widgets in the third quarter of this year by making 50 calls a day.