Establishing SMART Goals in Your Performance Reviews

The end of year/beginning of the year – whether fiscal or calendar – is a busy time for managers. But one of the most dreaded – and perhaps the most time consuming – of these tasks is establishing objectives for employees and conducting performance reviews.

Managers should take the time at the beginning of the year to establish clear, well-crafted objectives that are directly tied to their organization’s and department’s goals and objectives.

But what if “management by objective” or establishing clear-cut objectives is new for you? How do you get started?


How to Keep Score in Business

Think about a basketball game. The game has limitations and requirements: the number of people on the court, the number on the bench, how long the quarters are, how points are scored, what kind of ball you play with, what you can do with that ball, and all the other rules that govern the sport.

Business is really no different. You’re asking your employees to “play” or perform by certain rules/guidelines. Employees are limited to certain parameters of their job, the tools available to them, and the people they can work with. They’re governed by not only the policies (“rules”) of your business, but also by the “rules” or laws, code or ordinances that dictate how your business can operate in your area or industry.

So how do you know if which basketball team has won at the end of the game? By the points scored of course!


The same is true when evaluating employees. While as caring people, we don’t like to think about teamwork and “keeping score” with other people.  It just sounds petty. However, a big part of management is evaluation: how do you know if someone has done what you need them to do in the manner it needs to be done?

That’s why goals or objectives need to be SMART. In business, it’s not about “winning” or “losing” but completing tasks or requirements.


Creating SMART Goals

The acronym “SMART” in describing how goals should be written has been around for a while – but what do those terms actually mean?


Are the objectives stating well-defined and focused goals or requirements?

Good: Tom will write one blog post every day.

Needs Improvement: Tom will write for our website. (Write what? Write how often?)



Can the tasks be evaluated quantitatively?

Good: Janet will answer all customer emails within 24 hours.

Needs Improvement: Janet will handle our customer service emails.



Are they within reasonable expectations for the employee, given the current parameters of his/her role and your business? For example, using Janet’s example above, what if your business has grown from receiving 2-3 customer service emails a day, to receiving hundreds? Is it really possible for one person to fulfill this requirement by herself? 

In this case, the objective might be:

Janet will develop a series of “templated” responses to help streamline her customer service responses. She will continue to respond to all customer service emails within 24 hours, given average inflow of 15-20 emails a day. When this volume varies, however, she will ask Amy for help, and offload the “simple” emails that have templated answers to Amy, and focus on the more complex customer questions.

This is where it’s important to be able to have an open and honest conversation with your employees about why they may (or may not) be able to complete their tasks in a timely manner. Has the job grown beyond what you originally envisioned it and now additional resources are needed?



Similar to Achievable/Attainable, goals also need to be Relevant.

Sometimes, as businesses grow and evolve, capable employees pick up additional assignments or duties that perhaps they normally might not be asked to do. This “scope creep” can create challenges for your employees when the volume or demand grows beyond what one person can manage.

Using our example above, perhaps Janet has been handling customer service emails for the last year, but given the demands of the business, has also started handling inbound sales emails and chat assistance with website visitors. All three of these activities are related – they all involve written communications with customers or prospects. But what if the volume of work has grown beyond just one person’s capabilities?

That’s where the “relevant” and “attainable” conversations come into play. As Janet’s manager, you might want to consider all the tasks Janet fulfills, and determine with her, which tasks she personally needs to focus on, versus potentially reassigning certain types of work to other people on the team.

For example, perhaps the chat web assistance function has grown tremendously in this last year since it was first launched. Based on Janet’s skill set and personal/professional interests, she may want to become your lead person for the web chat support function, and simply provide additional support on an as-needed basis to other people on your team who take the lead on customer service emails and inbound sales emails.

So, in this case, the objective and performance review may be:

Janet has done a superior job in managing the web chat support, customer service emails and inbound sales prospect response programs.

Starting this year, Janet will:

  • Transition the customer service response email program to Amy, who has been helping occasionally. This will include providing all of the customer response templates and being open to answer questions during this transitionary time (30 days).
  • Transition the inbound sales prospect response emails to the sales team’s new assistant. This will include copies of her standardized responses for specific types of pricing requests and the processes for escalating pricing discounts.
  • Janet will lead the effort in responding to customers through our web chat functionality.
    • She will provide customer support through this capability during the hours she is working (M-F, 8-5p Pacific Time).
    • She will be responsive: Janet will initially greet customers within 2 minutes of them arriving at our website, letting them know she is available to help.
    • If a customer asks for assistance, Janet will engage with the customer within 30 seconds.
    • Janet will follow up with all customers after a chat with a standardized customer satisfaction email survey.
    • Janet will monitor and provide a quarterly report during this year about the demand for “after-hours” web chat requests, which will aid in determining future staffing.



The above scenario is also a good example of “time-bound” goals and objectives. Janet’s manager has been specific:

  • The new goals go into effect this year.
  • She will transition her old responsibilities to other people on the team, provide all the documentation and be open to answering questions for 30 days.
  • Her new job has clear and distinct time parameters (i.e.: M-F, 8a-5p Pacific Time) along with performance metrics around what “responsive” means in this environment.


Good performance reviews are often multi-step processes involving:

  • Reviewing previous year’s established goals. (If you have them.)
  • Conducting a self-evaluation: What are all of the activities the employee accomplished during the year? How does the employee believe he/she did in meeting the established goals?
  • Managerial review: based on your records, how do you feel the employee performed? Did they complete the tasks needed? Consider “softer measures” or “soft skills” areas such as proficiency, interpersonal skills, and communication skills.
  • Taking follow up action: what are the next steps for performance improvement? How does this year’s performance impact establishing next year’s goals? Are there additional steps needed such as allocating additional resources?


Just remember: Don’t get overwhelmed. Just as a basketball game might be played in four 10 minute quarters, performance reviews follow a process, grounded in the SMART goals you established last year. If you don’t have SMART goals for each of your employees, make this year the year that you get off on the right foot and start measuring performance objectives the SMART way!


Want to learn more about successfully navigating the Performance Review process? Check out our books (Amazon) and courses.


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