Real business story

SMART goals provide motivation and direction with a clear yardstick of success

Goal setting is an essential part of business strategy. Not only do goals provide motivation and direction, they are a valuable way to measure performance.
Tom Dunkerley, Sift

Tom Dunkerley has realised the importance of a member of his team looking at an objective and really understanding it

A good acronym to remember when setting goals is SMART – specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. This simple framework ensures that objectives are meaningful.

SMART goal setting is attributed to Peter Drucker’s “Management By Objectives” framework, which was first shared in his 1954 book “The Practice of Management”.

For Clownfish Events, a corporate events company based in London, and Sift, a Bristol-based digital publisher and agency, the SMART concept is the cornerstone of successful goal setting.


Well-defined goals help Sift team members understand how their actions bring about change by providing context and direction.

To set specific objectives, it is essential that you define exactly what you want to achieve, said Sift CEO Tom Dunkerley. What needs to be accomplished? Who is responsible? What steps will you take to achieve it?

“It sounds simple, but is the goal absolutely laser-focused on making a contribution back to the rest of the business? Can someone look at that objective and know they understand it?” Tom said.


Goals need to be quantified. The evidence which tells you how close you are to achieving the goal must be clearly-defined, Clownfish Events MD Matt Turner said.

“In the early days, I was setting goals based on dreams and hopes. They often were too vague and couldn’t be measured,” Matt said.

You can’t manage what you can’t measure, as the old saying goes. What frequency or volume do you need to achieve? What are the indicators of progress? How will you know when the goal has been reached?

“The most important thing is clarity. People need to understand what they’re doing and why it makes an impact. If they can see that the work they’re doing makes a positive impact on the business, that’s a very positive thing."

Tom Dunkerley, CEO, Sift


It is vital that goals are attainable. Objectives should challenge but not stretch you past what is possible. Failure to achieve can be demoralising.

At this stage, it is important to have a reality check. Do you have the budget, skills and resources to achieve the goal?

Mistakes normally occur at this point and it’s important that management get it right, Tom said.

“There’s a lot of onus on the management team to set the right metrics. It’s got to be something that team members have a tangible impact on. How does that translate into real work and is that the right message to be gunning after?”


There must be an obvious benefit attached to reaching the goal. You must determine whether the objective aligns with company values and other ambitions.

“The most important thing is clarity. People need to understand what they’re doing and why it makes an impact. If they can see that the work they’re doing makes a positive impact on the business, that’s a very positive thing,” Tom said.

“Does the goal trace back to the wider company objectives? One way of affirming that is getting people to play it back and explain why it contributes to both personal development and the performance of the business,” he added.

Time bound

Every goal needs an end point. Setting a deadline keeps your team motivated and ensures your goal doesn’t slip down the priority list.

You should not solely focus on one all-encompassing goal, so think about breaking your objective into monthly or quarterly milestones. Regular reviews are crucial to keep goals and goal-setting on track too.

The Clownfish Events team sets SMART goals with a variety of time frames. Quarterly goals could include client wins or hiring targets. Day-to-day goals could be reviewing client case studies. The management team has annual reviews to set personal development goals.

“We have weekly team catch up meetings and the SMART framework is always applied,” Matt said.

It is also important to re-evaluate your SMART goals in line with how well they are progressing. Again, this could be a mix of daily, monthly and quarterly reviews.

If goals are not being met and targets are being missed, what needs to change? Perhaps more training or mentoring is needed or the goal is too difficult and should be tweaked. On the other hand, if goals are being hit too easily, perhaps you need to be more ambitious and set harder goals.

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  • location: South West (England)
  • business type: Digital, technology & computer services
  • business size: 50-99

Top takeaways

Ensure your goals are SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound.

Good goals provide motivation and direction, but misjudged goals can cause stress and demotivate staff. Take time to set the right objectives.

It is important to set short-term goals that run alongside your long-term objectives. These can be reviewed daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually — whatever works best.