If you answered no, then check out the explanation below. SMART goal setting is an amazing tool that anyone can use to improve performance, and it really works! 

If you answered yes, fantastic! Goal setting is a great coaching tool, and a productive activity for leaders and their teams…

but you might be failing to unlock one of the most powerful effects of SMART goal setting…

A quick recap:

SMART goal setting means setting objectives for yourself, or with your teams, that are:

SpecificWhat are you aiming for, specifically?
MeasurableHow will you know when you have met this goal?
AchievableIs this goal realistic?
RelevantDoes this goal matter to you?
Time-boundWhen do you aim to achieve this, or when will you come back to review progress?)

A historical sidenote: The letters are sometimes used to stand for slightly different words. For example, A in the original version – first outlined in 1981 by George Doran – stood for Assignable: a goal that can be given to a particular person to achieve. Nowadays we almost always use SMART goal setting as part of a conversation with the person who will be achieving the goal, so it has been adapted to reflect the modern work context.

Don’t fall into a goal setting trap!

Plenty of workplaces have taken SMART to heart and use it when new people join, or in progress reviews.

The danger is that we can fall into the trap of forgetting about SMART goals completely apart from during formal settings.

This is a mistake for two reasons:

1. Your SMART goals can be broken down into smaller steps and bite-size pieces. You can set yourself SMART goals every single day, even multiple times a day, to keep yourself focused and on task.

2. Using SMART goal setting only in a formal context can leave people feeling like goal setting is something that is done to them – or worse, done for them by their leaders. You don’t need to wait for an official occasion to do goal setting.

The best way to get the most out of SMART goal setting is to use it every day to direct our focus at work and plan our time effectively.

SMART goal setting is the secret to unlocking flow at work.

A recent study tested using a SMART goal setting ‘nudge’ intervention for people in the workplace. They found that encouraging participants to engage in regular, personal goal setting led to an increase in flow time for them. When we are in flow, we experience less stress leading to increased engagement and improved performance.

If you already use SMART goal setting for performance reviews and long-term management, why not try extending the practice? Encourage daily, personal goal setting to maximise flow and improve performance.

500 words


Weintraub, J, Cassell, D, DePatie, T, 2021, Nudging flow through ‘SMART’ goal setting to decrease stress, increase engagement, and increase performance at work, in Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, available online

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