SMART Goals - Complete Guide for Coaches (plus .PDF)

Coach peers round laptop saying SMART Goals

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Who is this SMART Goals Guide for?

This SMART Goal Setting and Action Planning GUIDE offers goal setting tips for you and your business. And it also gives you a deeper understanding of goal setting to help your clients.

Starting with an overview of the SMART Acronym and a helpful SMART graphic, this guide goes deeply into each element of SMART goal setting. It also includes SMART Goals examples - throughout - and more to help both you and your clients set well-rounded and SMART Goals and Actions!

What we cover in this SMART Goals Article

So, What is a SMART Goal?

A SMART Goal is a goal where the SMART criteria have been met.

SMART Goals Stand For:

  • Specific             (being clear and specific makes goals and actions easier to achieve - and start!)
  • Measurable     (helps you know when a goal or action is complete and measure progress)
  • Actionable       (ensures you have direct control over the actions needed to achieve the goal)
  • Realistic           (avoid overwhelm and unnecessary stress and frustration by making the goal realistic)
  • Timebound      (helps us stay focused and motivated, inspiring us with a date to work towards)

TIP: A SMART goal is easier to achieve (and track progress for), because it's clearly defined.

SMART Acronym Graphic

SMART Goals Acronym Graphic - Horizontal

A Little SMART History

The SMART Goals acronym began as a set of criteria for managers to set better goals within organizations. But the SMART acronym is so powerful (and catchy) that it began to be used in personal goal setting too.

When were SMART Goals created?

The first reference to SMART Goals (according to Wikipedia) is in 1981 in a magazine called Management Review.

Who created SMART Goals?

George T. Doran is the creator or SMART Goals. He wrote a paper: There's a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management's goals and objectives. In this paper he discussed the challenges of documenting goals and objectives for management within organizations. Of interest to coaches is that George believed it was the goal combined with the action plan that was most important. In this paper George T. Doran's SMART Acronym was:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Assignable - identify who will do it
  • Realistic
  • Time-related

Interestingly, the A (Assignable in George's acronym above) is the only letter that has substantially changed in the switchover to personal goal setting. In personal goal setting "Assignable" doesn't make sense as the goal is already assigned. And because taking action is so important, I have chosen A - Actionable as the replacement A in the SMART criteria.

Variations on the SMART Criteria

There are many minor variations on the SMART criteria. The "Specific" and "Measurable" criteria are almost always consistently used, while the "A" and "R" may vary. The "T" is usually some version of Timebound.

Some other SMART Criteria examples include:

  • Other As - Assignable (original definition for use in setting management objectives), Achievable, Attainable, Agreed, Action-oriented, Ambitious, Aligned with corporate goals.
  • Other Rs - Relevant, Resourced, Reasonable, Results-based.
  • Other Ts - Time-related, Time-limited, Time-based, Time-oriented, Timely, Time-sensitive.

SMART Goal Setting

SMART goal setting is an art! We start with a vision or an idea and gradually refine it, making it more specific and measurable so that it becomes a goal we can take action on. A coach sits on the outside asking questions to help the client refine and hone their ideas so that their goals become actionable, achievable - and SMART!

SMART Goals Example

All too often people set goals that are not SMART. Here's an example of how you might take a non-SMART Goal and make it SMART.

Starting Non-SMART Goal:

  • Get more sales!

Consider: With the goal Get more sales, how would you know when you've achieved that goal? How would you measure progress/know you're on track? Where would you start?

Let's look at how the SMART criteria can help:

  • Make it Specific - Double the sales of my healthy eating eBook. We
  • Make it Measurable - Increase the gross annual revenue from my healthy eating eBook from $10,000 to $100,000. We have added a $ amount and made it clear we are measuring gross revenue. This allows us to break down the goal and track progress.
  • Ensure it is Actionable and within your control. One way to do this is to think about specific actions you could take that will directly impact the goal. Here are 4 example actions within your control:
    1. Create a new, more exciting front cover.
    2. Create a marketing action plan.
    3. Ask 25 people to read and review it on Amazon.
    4. Increase the price from $9.95 to $12.95.
  • Make it Realistic - Increase the revenue from my health eBook from $10,000 to $25,000 (reduce the amount to make it more realistic and achievable).
  • Make it Timebound - I would like to complete this goal by October 31 of next year.

The Final SMART Goals Example now reads:

  • Increase the gross annual revenue of my healthy eating eBook from $10,000 to $25,000 by October 31 next year.
TIP: Whilst SMART may seem like an acronym to follow one step at a time, as above, when you apply it you'll find yourself jumping around. Be prepared to change your goal as you hone, refine and understand it more deeply! SMART goal setting is a process - and an art.

Coach Pointing for make goals S - SPECIFIC

SMART Goals are Specific

Have you ever struggled to get started on a task because you don't really understand what it is, or the task seems too big and fuzzy?

Well, you're not alone! Many people struggle with getting started on their goals - simply because they haven't made their goals specific enough.

But it's well worth the effort: The more specific goals are, the easier they are to achieve! When we're clear on what we want, it makes it easy to make decisions and take action because we know exactly what we're trying to do.

I always wanted to be somebody, but I should have been more specific. Jane Wagner

How making goals SPECIFIC makes them EASIER to achieve:

A SMART Goal Example - being more SPECIFIC:

  • Imagine your goal is to Buy a summer shirt. You head off to the mall, and quickly get overwhelmed by the variety of stores, designs and patterns to choose from. Now instead, imagine you're shopping for a plain white shirt with short sleeves and a collar. As you browse you can now ignore coloured and patterned shirts - and can easily focus in on just the white, short-sleeved shirts. Now imagine your shirt must also have at least one pocket and mustn't cost more than $65. You've just made your goal even more specific. Now you can eliminate expensive stores - and your shirt-shopping is even easier!
  • A goal to Streamline business processes is hard to action. Where would you start? What does it mean? But if your goal is to "Create a one-page document which outlines the action steps for your Client Intake and Wrap-up process", now you have a clearer idea of what you're doing, and how to get started.
 TIP: SMART is not just for Goals! In order for you to be most effective both your goals and actions should be SMART. After all, actions are really just small goals!

Client squinting trying to size up with hands for M - MEASURABLE

SMART Goals are Measurable

How will you KNOW you've achieved your goal unless you can measure it?

If you can't prove you've completed the goal then it's not measurable - which means it's not a SMART goal. Measurability is a very important part of making your goals specific.

A SMART Goal Example:

  • If your goal is to "Get more people signed-up for your newsletter", how will you know you've succeeded unless you know where you are now, and what you're aiming for? Instead your goal could be to "Double your newsletter subscriber list from 250 to 500 people". This also allows you to track progress and adjust your action plan if it looks like what you're doing isn't getting the results you need.

More SMART Goals Examples:

  • Change "Follow-up with prospects" → "Phone 5 warm leads from last weekend's workshop".
  • Change "Decrease my website bounce rate" → "Decrease my website bounce rate to 40%".
  • Change "Run more workshops this year" → "Run 3 free workshops and 3 paid workshops in the next 12 months".

3 TIPS to Make Goals SMART - and Measurable

  1. One way to find your measure is to ask "Why am I doing this? Why bother?". This will help you identify why you're doing it - and to identify the measures you need to be sure your goals are successfully completed.
  2. Your measure could be a financial amount, a percentage increase or some kind of count. Note that for some goals and actions, the only measure is a "yes" or "no" to completion of the task. Ie. your new website is live, or you have registered your business name.
  3. If you don't know how to prove to someone that the goal is complete, then your goal measure is not specific enough. The "acid test" for measurability is to ask "How do I prove I've completed this goal?" So rather than "Create a new product" your measurable goal could be "The new product is available to buy on your website". And rather than "Finish my book", your measurable goal is "The final manuscript has been sent to the editor." Clear - and provable!

Measurability is important for Actions too (actions are really just small goals!)

SMART Action Examples

  • Change "Write an article" → "Write a 750 word article for LinkedIn on how to set boundaries with your boss".
  • Change "Follow-up with your prospects" → "Phone each of the prospects (from the free seminar I ran) by the end of Friday this week".
  • Change "Practice coaching" → "Ask 50 friends and family if you can give them a free coaching session (and book a time with those who say yes)".

Coach with Folder and Pen setting SMART Goals for A - ACTIONABLE

SMART Goals are Actionable

 We can't control fate - or other people. For a goal to be SMART it must be actionable by us, and within our control. Otherwise it's not a goal, it's a wish!

Actionable Goals

Actionable goals are those you can DO something about ie. where there are a number of actions - within your control - that lead to achievement of that goal.

SMART GOALS EXAMPLE: Your goal is not to "Get potential clients to see what you offer as excellent value" (you have no control over what people think of you), but to "Write a document that lists my unique selling points and the benefits of my service to potential clients". This goal is now actionable.In addition, two follow-on actions could be, to "Add these selling points and benefits to the 'Why coach with me?' page on my website". Another could be "Pick the 3 most powerful points and send them to my graphic designer to add to the back of my business card".

Also Make Your Goals Action-oriented...

Making a goal action-oriented also encourages you to write ACTIVE and not passive goals.

SMART GOALS EXAMPLE: Your goal is not to "Have a giveaway with newsletter sign-up on your website" (this is vague and passive and while loosely actionable, it is not action-oriented and does not inspire action). But your goal could be to "Write a one page special report on 7 ways to take better care of our feelings and add it as the newsletter sign-up gift for your website".

Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there.  James Allen

Coach hugging laptop to make R - REALISTIC GoalsSMART Goals are Realistic

 It's important to feel GOOD about your goals. When we set ourselves a goal that's out of our reach we often end up feeling overwhelmed, we self-judge, and sometimes we give up altogether. Truly SMART goals feel great!

This means it's important to factor in existing commitments and lifestyle when setting goals. SMART goals and actions need to be challenging enough to inspire you. AND they need to be realistic enough that you believe you can achieve it. It's all about setting yourself up for success.

4 TIPS to Make Goals SMART - and Realistic

  1. POSSIBILITY: Is it physically possible to complete the Goal or Action in question? While stretch goals can be inspiring even if they're unlikely - this is rarely true if they're impossible!
  2. CHUNKING DOWN: Struggling with a big action or goal? Break it down.
    • For Goals ask: "What would be a great stepping stone?", "What goal could I set that would prepare me or give me knowledge or experience that will help me achieve this bigger goal?" and "What could I achieve in a month, 3 months or year that would get me closer to my dream?"
    • For Actions ask: "What could I start or spend a chunk of time on?" and "What would be an easy first step, preparation action, request for help or action to remove an obstacle?". You can break out the first step into an action or set yourself a target of working on something for a chunk of time like 1 day or 3 hours
  3. COMMITMENT: Make your action doable, ie. the right size so that you can commit to it 100%.
    NOTE: Commitment is important - although it doesn't necessarily mean the goal or action will get done. Sometimes life gets in the way and opportunities or problems arise which prevent us from achieving what we set out to do. However, people CAN commit to achieving it.
  4. SCORING: One way to check-in as to how Realistic your goal is, is to score how likely you feel you will achieve your goals (out of 10). If your score is LESS THAN 8:
    • Your goal or action may be TOO challenging or large.
    • You may not feel connected enough to WHY you're doing it.
    • You may lack self-belief (which is an obstacle in itself)
    • There may be some other obstacles you haven't fully acknowledged or addressed yet.
TOP TIP: When estimating, think carefully how long the action will realistically take.

This is because we tend to underestimate how long tasks will take, especially if we haven't done it before.

A good rule of thumb (from my Project Management days) is to double your first thought of how long the action or goal will take. And if you haven't done it before, try tripling or even quadrupling your estimate. It sounds extreme, but this is a great way to reduce stress - and surprisingly accurate.

Create a RANGE of Goal Achievement Levels

One way to make a goal realistic, is to create a RANGE of goal achievement levels. Having a goal completion RANGE is a great way to take the pressure off, while still inspiring yourself with a stretch goal.

  • Minimum - This should be relatively EASY to achieve. Set a level that is EASILY achievable this year. After all, life sometimes does throw unexpected things our way - positive opportunities, charming distractions and painful experiences!
  • Target - This is your IDEAL level. What would be a good level to aim for? What would be enough of a stretch to be interesting, but not so much of a stretch that you find yourself switching off or avoiding it?
  • Extraordinary - This is your STRETCH level! What would be amazing, brilliant, wonderful? Put in a measure here where you would say, "Wow, that is fabulous!" NOTE: Be sure that your measure here is POSSIBLE, even if it is not PROBABLE.

Examples of Setting a RANGE for Goal Achievement:

The range you use could be DATES, for example:
- Minimum level could be completion by - December 31
- Target level could be completion by - September 30
- Extraordinary level could be completion by - June 30

Your range could also be NUMERIC - a $ amount, percent or a count. For example:
- Minimum = 250 Facebook likes, 1 new client a month, $1000 in sales/month
- Target = 500 Facebook likes, 3 new clients a month, $2000 in sales /month
- Extraordinary = 750 or more Facebook likes, 5 new clients a month, $5000 in sales/month

If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put foundations under them. Henry David Thoreau

Coach with pen and diary adding deadlines to their Goals for T - TIMEBOUND

SMART Goals are Timebound

WHY? SMART goals and actions are always Timebound ie. they have a date by when you plan to complete them. Without a date there's less incentive to work toward our goals - what are we aiming at? We're all so busy! How are we going to fit more activity into our lives? How do we know how to prioritise our activities unless we have a deadline to know this goal/action is important to us?

Also, an action plan to achieve a goal will be very different in terms of effort, solutions and help required if the deadline is a month from now, as compared to a deadline of one year from now. Setting a date allows people to work backwards and figure out an appropriate action plan.

A date also gives us the opportunity to visualise completion. It allows you to imagine that time in the future when you have completed it- and that helps you commit to the goal!

With annual goals we often have an automatic "deadline" of December 31. And sometimes a date is fixed or imposed on us, for example if we're booked to deliver a workshop on a specific date. And sometimes we must choose a date, so we have something to aim at.

3 TIPS to Make Goals Timebound

  1. Pick a date that inspires you, but that's not so challenging that you feel overwhelmed.
  2. Different dates may also represent the relative priority or urgency of different actions. Fore example, a goal or action with a completion date of March 31 is likely to be higher priority than a goal with a completion date of September 30.
  3. For each goal, you can give yourself a RANGE of completion dates (Minimum, Target and Extraordinary) as detailed under the "Make it Realistic" above.

5 Final Tips to Be Smart about HOW We Set Our Goals

SMART Goals Explained Graphic Square

It's not just about setting goals using the SMART criteria. We need to BE smart about our goals. Here are 5 final tips to help you and your clients both set - and achieve - your goals.

  1. Work hard, but know when to rest. Forgive yourself - for what you don't yet know, for your mistakes and what might get in the way.
  2. Be kind to yourself! Know that we tend to over-estimate what's achievable in a shorter time-frame, and under-estimate what we can achieve over a longer period.
  3. Anytime the goal isn't working for you, change the goal! The best goals flex when they need to.
  4. Remember that SMART is for Actions too!
  5. More important than hard work - determination and perseverance are essential qualities for achieving bigger goals! Keeping going when the going gets tough is what sets you apart from the crowd. These qualities also build self-confidence, resilience and make you proud of yourself!

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Wrap-up

Goals can be fun and inspiring. What the SMART criteria do is help us clearly define our goals so they're easier to get started. SMART also makes it easier to take action, stay motivated - and ultimately succeed!

I have always loved goal-setting - and SMART goal-setting in particular! So I hope this SMART Goal-Setting and Action Planning Guide helps you and your clients set smarter and more inspiring goals - and have more fun working towards them!

Finally, remember this:

GOALS are there to INSPIRE YOU, not to beat yourself up with! Now that's SMART!

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© 2020 Simplicity Life Coaching Ltd.

Emma-Louise Elsey HeadshotAbout the author: Emma-Louise Elsey is the CEO of Simplicity Life Coaching Ltd. (The Coaching Tools Company.com and Fierce Kindness.com are divisions of Simplicity Life Coaching Ltd.) She is a certified Life Coach, NLP practitioner and recovering perfectionist who loves meditation, questions, quotes, creating coaching tools and writing. Since qualifying as a coach in 2004 she has worked with many successful professionals and business owners.

For inspiration and to help you with your businesses, there are many more Free Coaching Tools & Templates including coaching questions, coaching exercises, business admin templates for new coaches and forms to help with your workshops.

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Contributing Author:

Emma-Louise Elsey has been coaching since 2003 and is the Founder of The Coaching Tools Company and Fierce Kindness.com. She's passionate about coaching and personal development. Originally a project and relationship manager for Fortune 500 companies she combined her love of coaching, creativity and systems to create over 100 brandable coaching tools, forms and exercises including 30+ completely free coaching tools. She now serves coaches and the coaching world through her exclusive newsletter for coaches, Coaches Helping Coaches Facebook Group and many other great tools, resources and ideas for your coaching toolbox. The Coaching Tools Company is an official ICF Business Solutions Partner.

Learn more about Emma-Louise & see all their articles here >>

Image of Coach peering around laptop by stockfour via Shutterstock

Image of Coach pointing to S - SPECIFIC by Asier Romero via Shutterstock

Image of Client making SMART goal measurable using hands for M - MEASURABLE by Krakenimages.com via Shutterstock

Image of Coach making notes in folder for A - ACTIONABLE by EHStockphoto via Shutterstock

Image of Coach Hugging Notes for R - REALISTIC by ESB Professional via Shutterstock

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