Establishing S.M.A.R.T. Goals

“Employees learn better when they actually become involved in the process” (Fallon & MCConnell, 2007, p. 192), so what better way to grow than to define the process?!

Meyer (2006) outlines a methodology, referred to as S.M.A.R.T., of developing goals and a plan to attain them. The S.M.A.R.T. goal methodology that Meyer describes is reflected in the acronym of the name: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound. However, as Rubin (2002) points out, the acronym is dynamic and variable to include any number of variations: simple, specific, sensible, significant; meaningful, motivating; acceptable, achievable, action-oriented, accountable, agreed, actionable, assignable; realistic, reviewable, relative, rewarding, reasonable, results-oriented, relevant; timelines, time-frame, time-stamped, tangible, timely, time-based, time-specific, time-sensitive, timed, time-scaled, time-constrained, time-phased, time-limited, time-driven, time-related, time-line, toward what you want, and truthful. Even more dynamic, as Rubin points out, some add “efficacy” and “rewarding” making S.M.A.R.T. goals S.M.A.R.T.E.R. goals!

Regardless, however, of the actual mnemonic, the methodology represents the continuum of goal-analysis, goal-setting, and goal-attainment in a systematic manner that is tangible and results-oriented. The philosophy remains true and valid.

Setting a Goal

In the past, one of my goals was to obtain a college degree. I knew that I was intelligent and should have no problem, otherwise, attaining this goal, but life always seemed to place obstacles in my path. One day, not so long ago and with chiding from my father, I decided to put a date to this goal: December, 2012. I was lacking this one important motivational step for so long, but because I finally made my goal time-sensitive, I was finally able to measure my progress in a specific manner. I feel that because I developed a realistic time-line to attain this goal, I will obtain my bachelors degree this year.

Now that I am close to completing one goal, it makes sense to reflect and determine my next set of goals, but how can I apply the S.M.A.R.T. methodology of setting one? Reviewing Meyer (2006) and Rubin (2002), I find that, first, I need to conceptually understand that goals should be simple and realistic. Next, my goal needs to somehow be constrained by time so that it is measurable and my progress is quantifiable. Further, my goal, itself, needs to be motivating and rewarding.

My goal cannot be something as simple as make more money or be a better person. These goals are broader, I feel, than the methodology is designed for. However, breaking one of these goals down to measurable steps seems to be preferred. Instead of make more money, a more specific goal might be to earn a six-figure income by a set date.


According to Meyer (2006), the first question is if this goal is specific. Yes. If I continue to earn any less than $100,000 in a single year, I have not met my goal.


The next question: Is it measurable? For the same reasons that it is specific, it is measurable. Additionally, my progress is measurable by the year-to-date column of my paycheck, which should increase towards my ultimate goal amount.


Is this goal attainable? As I take stock of my current income and skill set with the addition of my bachelors degree and other certifications and licenses, I do feel that a six-figure income is attainable.


In order to be a realistic goal, others in my profession must have attained this goal, or I must be willing to change professions. I am hard-pressed to leave the emergency medical services, and there are a number of positions available within the emergency medical services that earn six-figures. These positions are mostly administrative in nature, but I feel that I have the experience to start considering these positions as realistic.


Setting a time-frame for completion of my last major goal underscores the importance of this step, but it is my weakness, and I acknowledge that. However, as I expect to obtain my bachelors degree later this year, realistically, I would have to give myself another year or two to find a position for which I could apply. I would, then, need another year in order to actually earn the income. The 2015 tax year seems appropriate, though unrealistic, perhaps. Still, I will set this time-line and reconsider each objective of my goal as 2015 draws closer.


Setting a goal is a difficult task. It is sometimes difficult to look to the future, and often times, we are haunted by our failings in the past. Using a methodology, such as S.M.A.R.T., can help us to reflect on realistic and meaningful goals that can ultimately help us work toward the more obscure long-term goals, like being affluent or saving the world.


Fallon, L. F. & McConnell, C. R. (2007). Human resource management in health care: principles and practice. Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett.

Meyer, P. J. (2006). Attitude is everything. Retrieved from smartgoals.pdf

Rubin, R. S. (2002). Will the real SMART goals please stand up? The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 39(4), 26-27.