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What Goals Should Look Like: Goal Statements

We often set goals for ourselves, for our families, for our companies – but, do we know what goals should look like? Achieving any goal begins with a great goal statement. Just as journalists are taught to answer six questions in every news story they write: Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How; correctly written goal statements answer the first four questions:

  • The Who is implied — it’s whomever the goal statement is for.
  • The What is the performance you want to see.
  • The Where can be a physical location, but it can also mean under which conditions or circumstances you want to see the performance.
  • The When can mean an actual time frame during or by which you want the performance to occur…but if the performance is supposed to happen all the time, the When can also be left out and implied like the Who.


Good goal statements typically don’t address Why and How.

Knowing the four recommended parts of a goal statement will ensure the goals you write are structured correctly. However, it’s possible to get the structure right but still end up with a weak or poorly worded goal. To keep this from happening, test each goal statement against a set of five criteria known as SMART goal criteria. Ask yourself, “Is the goal…:


The goal expresses only one outcome.
Avoid using vague words like “good,” “acceptable,” and “often.”
Strive for balance between keeping your statements concise and including enough relevant details.


Measurable means there is a practical way to objectively tell whether or not the goal as worded was achieved.
Both quantitative and qualitative goals can be measured if properly worded.


Attainable means the goal is within the employee’s power to achieve and does not depend on other people or events.
It should be achievable but challenging.


Each performance goal should have a clear connection to the employee’s role or purpose. Examples include goals that help employees do their jobs better or goals that support their managers’ or department’s goals.
Consider this need in designing goals, but don’t necessarily explain it in each goal statement; remember, goal statements don’t explain how or why.


Make goals timely by stating a target completion date and, if appropriate, intermediate action steps and their due dates.

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