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If there is one thing that human resources professionals have in abundance, it’s acronyms. Truly, the amount of acronyms we all use on a daily basis could form their own language, with dialects for the different industries we all work in. 

While the thought of adding more acronyms to your already overflowing vocabulary may sound daunting and unnecessary, I’m here to tell you that SMART Goals (and OKRs) are very much worth adding to your repertoire.

I’ve worked in HR teams where goal setting wasn’t taken seriously and, looking back, what was lacking was a proper framework to set goals and create action plans to attain them.

The smartest goals are those that drive both individual and team performance and also align individuals and teams with the organizational goals as well; a true win-win scenario.

Here I’ll take you through a couple of goal-setting frameworks, with a particular focus on SMART Goals, and some examples. We’ll cover:

Let’s dive in.

What Are SMART Goals and OKRs?

The first question you're likely asking yourself is what are SMART Goals and what are OKRs? Well, I’m glad you asked! 

What are SMART Goals

As I mentioned, SMART is an acronym that breaks down like this:

Specific. Setting goals that have very focused outcomes by identifying what it is you’re trying to accomplish. The broader a goal is the more difficult it will be to track and actually achieve.

Measurable. After identifying what specifically our goal should be, we then need to define how we’re going to quantify the goal itself in terms of progress and completion.

Achievable. This is a very important caveat. While moonshots do have their place in the corporate world, generally speaking, it's important for a goal to be attainable. A goal that is too grand to ever achieve is one that will never get done and can feel very demoralizing for those working toward that goal.

Relevant. Much like achievability, the relevance of a goal is also very important. Whether the goal is for an individual employee or a team, it's important that it is relevant to the overall goal of the organization. An irrelevant goal can feel counterintuitive which may sap motivation from the employee or team working toward completing the goal.

Time-bound. The last, and arguably most important, step is to create a timeline or some kind of time constraint for the goal. We’ve all had open-ended goals before, and we all know how they usually turn out. Progress is made steadily, or not at all until motivation for the goal fizzles out due to more important priorities, or perhaps better-defined priorities would be the better way to put it.

So, an example of an HR goal using the SMART framework might be:

Reduce employee turnover from 15-10% by the beginning of Q3 next year.

It’s specific because it focuses on turnover, easy to measure because it has a %, achievable as 10% is about average, relevant because decreasing turnover will benefit the organization, and time-bound because Q3 is a timeframe.

What Does OKR Stand For?

Now SMART goals are not the only framework for goal setting that exists; as I mentioned at the beginning of this article there is another acronym to learn for this called OKR. 

OKR stands for Objective and Key Results and acts as a goal-setting framework that can be used to help measure and track your goals. 

The goal of this framework is to break down the objectives of your goals into measurable key results, usually 3-5.

You see this kind of approach used by human resources departments to ensure all employees working toward a goal have a clear idea of the objectives at hand, the measurements which will be used to track those objectives, and the milestones along the way. 

An example of an OKR for HR might be to standardize performance management across the business (objective), with the key results being to select a performance management system, roll it out across the org, and then gather employee feedback.

As you’re likely surmising, the similarities between SMART goals and OKRs are readily apparent with both frameworks being popular.

You can check out some HR OKR examples later, but below we’ll look at some SMART goals examples.

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HR Goals Examples

Since we’ve now finished adding two new acronyms to your HR dictionary, you’re probably wondering what some HR goals might look like in practice.

Setting some goals in your HR department can help improve efficiency, increase engagement of the employees on your team, and increase transparency to the objectives of your department. 

With that said, let’s get into some examples of what SMART goals might look like in practice.

1. Employee Engagement SMART Goal

Increasing employee engagement at the top of everyone’s mind lately, and for a good reason. 

Recent statistics have shown that only 34% of Americans are engaged while at work, and 41% of the global workforce is considering quitting their jobs. 

What these numbers should tell you above all else is that there is an opportunity, or perhaps a vital need, to reach your employees so that they feel engaged and you don’t experience high levels of turnover.   

Creating a SMART goal to increase engagement would need a specific and measurable objective, along with a time frame; we already know this goal is relevant and achievable. 

Our goal could be to increase employee engagement by 10% within the next 6 months, and we could measure this with the results of regular employee engagement surveys.

2. Effective Hiring and Onboarding SMART Goal

We all know that replacing someone is significantly more expensive than retaining them.

As such, we want to be sure that, when it comes to talent acquisition and onboarding, we are doing so effectively and in a way that will create a positive employee experience for new hires and help with employee retention rates. 

If we were to create a SMART goal for this objective it could look something like this: reduce turnover of newly hired employees by 10% in the next year. 

This gives us a specific goal, a way to measure it in terms of turnover, especially turnover within the first 90 days, along with a time frame to gather meaningful data. 

We have to believe this goal is achievable, and it can certainly be relevant if there is a high degree of turnover in your organization. 

The other great thing about this goal is the degree to which you can build more goals from it. 

If you increase retention in newly hired employees, you can then pivot to retention across the entire organization, which may overlap with your company culture, and so on.

3. Increase Team Collaboration SMART Goal

It can be difficult to foster team collaboration and camaraderie, especially in remote teams. 

These types of collaborations can be important not just for improving morale but also for checking in on the well-being and mental health of remote employees who you may not see frequently.

A SMART goal here could be to increase the number of team collaboration meetings by 10% over the next six months. This is a goal that should be achievable as all it really requires is increasing meetings or strategy sessions with your team.

4. Improve Employee Experience SMART Goal

Creating a great employee experience across the employee life cycle is key to retaining and attracting top talent. Something you can use to track this is the employee net promoter score (eNPS) which tells you how likely current employees are to recommend your organization as a great place to work. 

Therefore, an example goal could be to increase our employee net promoter score from 55-65 over the next year.

From here, you could maybe combine with OKRs to lay out some key results that will help you achieve this goal e.g.

  • Write a flexible working policy and have it approved and communicated in the next 60 days.
  • Survey all workers to gather ideas on how we can improve the working environment.

5. Empower Executives as Cultural Leaders SMART Goal

A phrase you’re likely familiar with is that change starts at the top. This is true for many changes, but perhaps culture most of all. 

The most impactful leaders are those who are highly visible and truly embody the cultural values they want to see in the organization.

If your organization boasts about work-life balance, then you need to make sure your executives are leaving on time every day because, if they don't, no one else will. 

A good goal to create around this would involve looking at your cultural values and making sure your executives are leading by example. 

To provide a practical example, we could make a SMART goal wherein the aim would be to increase participation by executives in culture planning sessions by 25% in the next 6 months. 

This goal itself provides a call to action for the entire organization. 

We're going to start actively working on our culture and we’re going to make sure that at least 25% of executives participate in these sessions, or at least that is our goal. This sets a metric for leadership but also shows all employees that we are taking culture seriously by involving the key stakeholders of the organization.

This may also require some training or education to your executives where you remind them that the organization as a whole looks to them to set the tone for the culture.

6. Increase Emphasis on Learning and Development SMART Goal

Earlier we cited some statistics about current workforce trends, specifically how we’ve been seeing higher rates of attrition across the board. 

In an environment like this, it’s important to make sure your employees have the skills they need to succeed in their jobs, and not just for the current moment. It's also important to make sure you’re upskilling employees for the future needs of your organization. 

This is another goal that is symbiotic in nature—it's good for the organization which can address any current or future skill gaps that exist and it’s beneficial for the employee’s own development. 

If we think of an example of a SMART goal focused on training we could aim for something like increasing the availability of training programs and courses by 20% in the next year.

7. Create Employee Volunteer Programs SMART Goal

With the shift in generational participation in today’s workforce, organizations are finding that different things are being asked of them than with prior generations. 

We’ve seen that Millennials and Zoomers are much more socially conscious than their peers, and what is interesting is that they’re expecting a level of participation from their workplaces which historically has not been done.

A tangible goal here could be to create a volunteer program and aim for 25% of employees to use the volunteer program in the next year. 

There are a lot of angles we can take in designing the program but the goal is to make sure employees actually contribute to the program. 

If they don’t, it then becomes a question of why and making a course correction, but it's our SMART goal that will tell us how successful the program is or is not. 

8. Leadership Development SMART Goal

Do you have the right employees in the right positions? Do you have a plan in place in the event one of your leaders abruptly leaves your organization? 

Leadership development is a critical area that you need to be focusing on because it can hugely impact the performance of your organization.

Creating a SMART goal around leadership development is one area where you have a lot of paths you can take. 

You can create a program for your high-potential employees, you can work on succession planning to make sure you have a plan for all the critical roles in your organization, or you can even examine your selection criteria for leaders to see if there is room for improvement. 

As an example, if we’re starting from scratch, we could make a goal to create succession plans for 50% of key positions in the next 6 months. 

As discussed this is a goal that is very specific, easy to measure in terms of having a succession plan or not, and most of all it is relevant and time-sensitive.   

9. Management SMART Goal

As we’ve mentioned, SMART goals don’t just have to be for a team, they can be individual as well.

If you’re someone who struggles with time management, whether that’s meeting deadlines or wanting to improve your work-life balance to avoid burnout, a SMART goal can help to hold yourself accountable. 

An example would be to create a goal for yourself where you commit to logging off on time for at least 75% of the days you work in the next 3 months. 

A goal like this is a good reminder to make sure your SMART goals are achievable; if you make the goal 100% of the time you would be setting yourself up for failure. 

However, it's also alright if you don’t meet your goal, if logging off on time 3 days out of 4 is a goal you feel is realistic, or you would like it to be, then make that your goal. 

If business needs do not allow for it and you end up at less than 75%, you can always reassess and make your target more realistic for the next 3 months; or maybe there are some changes you can make at work to get closer to that number?

The point is, it's alright if you don’t always hit your goal; what you do in those cases is look critically at why you missed your target and make adjustments moving forward. After all, a mistake you make once is a lesson, and a mistake you keep making is a decision.

10. Earning a Human Resources Certification SMART Goal

Another example of an individual goal and one that many human resources professionals are likely aiming for to help their careers to help their own professional development. 

Many HR pros aspire to earn a credential to show their expertise in the field, and these credentials are highly valued with some employers offering incentives in terms of bonuses or raise for completion. 

What is great about creating a SMART goal for yourself to earn certification is the time aspect, many people can procrastinate and keep pushing things off forever. 

By design, a SMART goal will give you a deadline to stick to which can be just the motivation some people need to finally take that next step in advancing their career.

Whether you set the goal for yourself to earn a credential in 3 months or a year, setting the goal and sticking to it is certainly a smart decision you can make to keep yourself motivated.

Use Goals To Drive Operational Performance

I hope by now you see the value in creating HR goals to help drive team performance, focus your initiatives, and get projects through the door.

If you’re an HR manager reading this, you’ve probably already realized that utilizing the SMART or OKR frameworks is a great way to hold yourself and your team accountable and report back to leadership on your performance.

Some further resources to help you set goals and drive the business forward:

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By Drew Lewis

Drew is a Human Resources professional widley experienced in the corporate world. Both internally and as a consultant, he has worked all in areas of HR operations and strategy with particular focus on compensation, benefits, leave management, and organizational development. When not at work you'll find him relaxing with his wife, skiing (weather permitting), or playing with his dog.