Try these SMART alternatives for your team’s 2021 #goals

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rep goal setting 550pxUnless you have been working under a rock, you have probably heard of the SMART goal-setting tool. Making sure that your personal goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-based is always a plus. But when it comes to team-based goal setting, SMART is not necessarily the best method, said Learning and Development Specialist Alison Kniseley.

Earlier this month, Kniseley led a group of employees in a workshop on goals and goal-setting as part of Learning and Development's new Resilient Team educational series. "SMART is more specific for personal goals," Kniseley said. "We wanted to share some other models that may be better suited for work in teams or groups."


OKR stands for Objective - Key Results. "You define the goal you want to meet and then the three to five elements — each of which is time-bound and limited — in order to complete that objective," Kniseley said. OKR was developed by Andy Grove, the CEO of computer chip giant Intel. In the 1980s, John Doerr began sharing the model and it later spread to Google, Apple and other companies.

Give me an example:

An academic department recognizes that continuing education students are not being notified in a timely fashion about their course start dates.

Objective: Notify students about their training dates in a timely manner.
Key Result: Send each student an email notification of training start date one month in advance with instructions to respond whether they will attend.
Key Result: Create a call list and assign employees to call students who have not responded or whose emails were returned as undeliverable.
Key Result: Instructor sends a welcome email to students who are attending 10 days before the start date.

Read up:

Kniseley recommends this article to dive into OKR in greater detail:

Harvard Business Review: How VC John Doerr Sets (and Achieves) Goals


CLEAR stands for Collaborative, Limited, Emotional, Appreciable, Refinable. "This model was developed by Adam Kreek, an Olympic-level rower who was preparing to cross the Atlantic Ocean with a small crew," Kniseley said. "His primary goal was to get across the ocean, but he set some rules as well: Don't die, don't kill your mates and don't sink your boat."

"OKRs and CLEAR goals are not as limiting as SMART goals for team goal-setting. SMART is very structured, where OKR and CLEAR look at a broader picture, with more flexibility for teams."

Teams that work collaboratively are inherently stronger (collaborative), they make sure that their goals are not so broad that they become unmanageable and that they can be achieved in a reasonable timeframe (limited), they give each team member a stake in success (emotional), they are sub-divided into discrete blocks (appreciable) and they are flexible enough to adapt to changing circumstances or needs (refinable). Continued user input will be used to shape the system in an ongoing manner (refinable). 

Give me an example:

Involve a select group of faculty, staff and information technology professionals (collaborative) to develop and implement a new record system (limited) that is easily accessible by the primary stakeholders. The system will enter beta testing by summer 2021 and go live by fall 2021 (appreciable). The new system will improve customer access to records and ease administrative burden (emotional).

Read up:

Kniseley recommends these articles to dive into CLEAR goals in greater detail:

Comparing SMART goals versus CLEAR goals

Forget SMART goals — try CLEAR goals instead

Benefits and principles of goal setting

"OKRs and CLEAR goals are not as limiting as SMART goals for team goal-setting," Kniseley said. "SMART is very structured, where OKR and CLEAR look at a broader picture, with more flexibility for teams."

These are not the only three models available, Kniseley said, and the choice largely is a matter of personal preference. But the benefits of working together to set team goals are numerous, she added. Goals:

  • provide direction
  • improve relationships
  • increase engagement and motivation for team members and give them the opportunity to achieve objectives

There are five general principles of goal setting that teams and their leaders should keep in mind, based on researcher Edwin Locke's Goal-setting Theory. Good goals:

  • are clear to everyone — this includes ensuring they are measurable
  • challenge every member of the team with a reasonable level of difficulty
  • involve commitment on the part of leadership and buy-in from those involved
  • allow for regular feedback on progress toward the goal
  • are optimized for task complexity, ensuring that timescales are realistic, especially if the goal involves training employees for new tasks or tools

Strengthen your team

Register today for these upcoming sessions in Learning and Development’s Resilient Team series: