This is the fourth in a series of articles about using SMART as a checklist to help get better outcomes for you and your team. I recommend you read my intro to this series for more information about the background of SMART, clarification of what the letters mean, and a general pep talk on why you should set aside any ambivalence you have for SMART and read on.


After you’ve figured out how you’re going to measure the specific work that you’ve defined, Achievable comes along to help you assess whether what you’ve defined is realistic, and in this capacity, Achievable can sometimes seem like a bit of a party pooper. Seriously, can someone really do this? With the level of specificity, to the quality standards that you defined? If you think not, adjust.

Use caution here, though, because I’ve found that Achievable can also be a little risk averse and can sometimes cause you to set the bar too low. Finding a balance is important when you’re setting someone up for success – work that is too challenging (unachievable) is demotivating, but so is work that isn’t challenging enough (boring). Achieveable’s best friend is Time-bound. Adjusting the timeline for something is a terrific way to add or decrease the challenge.

Let’s look at an example.

Let’s say that you are setting up some goals for your team around sales growth, and you want them to bring in 5 new leads every week. On the surface that seems good – specific and measurable.

But what does it take to get that lead?

      • What if it takes on average 20 phone calls to get one lead? (100 phone calls on average to get 5 real leads)
      • How long does each phone call take? (If each call takes 10 minutes, that is 1000 minutes – almost 17 hours to make those phone calls.)
      • And what if the ones that are really good leads take 20 minutes.

It is easy to see how half a work week could be spent just on making calls to try to get to this goal.

Is this the only thing your team is working on or is there other work in the pipeline that needs to be done so you don’t lose customers?

If your team is doing other customer support—following up on issues, doing checkins to see how things are going with new customers, collaborating with team mates on new products or social media campaigns—do they really have 20 hours a week to focus on getting those leads? You might say yes to all these questions, but the Achievable asks you to work through the through the details to be sure.

Note that in some incarnations of SMART, A stands for actionable – meaning something that can be done, not some imaginary pie-in-the-sky thing that no one could do. But I like achievable better, because while they mean close to the same thing, actionable to me implies that you can start it. By making the work achievable, the focus in on finishing it. Language matters.

One final thought when you’re evaluating whether something is Achievable is review what dependencies exist that could hamper or impede the completion of this work. If there are too many things over which you, or the person doing the work, has no control or influence over, it won’t be achievable at all, and you should rethink this work.

The next letter, R, isn’t my favorite – but we’ll talk about it next anyway. Check out Specific and Measurable too if you haven’t.