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How and Why You Should Set SMART HR Goals to Improve Performance

How and Why You Should Set SMART HR Goals to Improve Performance

How do organizational goals relate to HR? They're more important than one might think. Setting SMART goals for the HR department within a defined time frame gives human resources professionals a framework to achieve milestones in the work they do. Well-crafted objectives provide long-term vision and short-term motivation and create tangible results that can demonstrate how HR supports and grows the organization and builds company culture.

Here's how to set them. 


What is a SMART Goal?

A SMART goal is a productivity tool that can be used to set more effective goals & objectives for any given project, whether they be short term or long term goals. "SMART" is an acronym that describes the ways in which a person or a team can establish criteria and create an action plan on how a goal can be reached or achieved within a target date.

Developed in 1981 by George Doran, Arthur Miller, and James Cunningham, setting SMART goals is a common tool used by companies around the world. 

SMART stands for:

  • Specific: The more well defined the goal is, the better. Vague, open-ended goals are much more difficult to achieve.
  • Measurable: Goal-setters must clearly define what success looks like for their goal. This way, they'll know when it's been reached.
  • Attainable: Goals should be realistic. In other words, setting a goal that isn't achievable sets you up for failure.
  • Relevant: Goals must be relevant to the job or organization. If not, then why set it at all?
  • Time Based: A goal without a deadline isn’t likely to be met. Goals require reasonable and timely deadlines to drive productivity without creating undue stress or complications. Always make sure you track progress as you go along.


Why SMART HR Goals Should Align with Organizational Goals

HR goals should align with an organization's goals for the year and beyond.

By matching HR's goals with the organization's strategy and vision, the human resources department ensures that the entire team is working towards the same desired state—and also that one set of goals isn't creating unnecessary friction or self-created roadblocks on the other. The last thing anyone wants or needs is two competing visions for success.


Good and Bad Examples of SMART HR Goals 

When creating HR goals, keep the SMART model in mind. Consider a few examples of goals that do and don’t meet each of the individual SMART criteria:


  • Non-specific goal: Hire people faster.
  • Specific goal: Reduce our current time-to-hire.


  • Non-measurable goal: Reduce turnover rate.
  • Measurable goal: Reduce turnover rate by 15%.


  • Non-attainable goal: Go all year without losing a single employee.
  • Attainable goal: Increase our retention rate from 80% to 90% for the year.


  • Non-relevant goal: Reduce go-to-market costs.
  • Relevant goal: Increase the number of qualified applicants who apply for open positions.

Time Based

  • Non-timely goal: Implement emergency evacuation plan.
  • Timely goal: Implement emergency evacuation plan before the end of Q1.


Likewise, when put together, the following examples illustrate goals that do and don't meet the SMART criteria in its entirety:

Non-SMART goal: I want people to stay at our company longer.

SMART goal: To better retain our existing talent and save on the costs associated with new hires, I want to reduce our current annual turnover rate of 25% to 15% by the end of the year.

The latter goal meets the SMART criteria in the following ways:

  • Specific: reduce our annual turnover rate
  • Measurable: to 15%
  • Attainable: from 25% to 15%
  • Relevant: to better retain existing talent and save on the costs associated with new hires
  • Time Based: by the end of the year

Consider another example:

Non-SMART goal: I want to hire people faster.

SMART goal: In order to increase hiring efficiency, lower cost-to-hire and to hire top talent, I want to reduce our time-to-hire from 30 days to 20 days by the end of the second quarter.

The latter goal meets the SMART criteria in the following ways:

  • Specific: I want to reduce our time-to-hire.
  • Measurable: to 20 days
  • Attainable: from 30 days to 20 days
  • Relevant: to increase hiring efficiency, lower cost-to-hire and to hire top talent
  • Time Based: by the end of the second quarter


Six Great Tips HR Can Use When Setting Goals

When setting personal goals for your organization, consider the following tips and tricks that help make the process more effective:

  1. Make sure the goals you’re setting are in-line with your organization’s—and your team’s—mission statements
  2. Use an HR audit to identify the areas in which HR can improve
  3. It’s okay to start with a vague, non-SMART goal and build it out into a SMART goal
  4. Make sure you have (or can obtain) the necessary resources to meet your goals
  5. Goals can and should be challenging—that's how you grow
  6. Remember to celebrate and reward yourself when you meet your goals

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