If you're looking for more effective board management, it would behoove you to get S.M.A.R.T.

How to get S.M.A.R.T.er board management

S.M.A.R.T. is a set of goals designed to provide structure and guidance and better identify what a board wants to accomplish. In 1981, George T. Doran, a consultant and former director of corporate planning for Washington Water Power Company published a paper titled "There's a S.M.A.R.T. Way to Write Management's Goals and Objectives." In the document he introduces S.M.A.R.T. goals as a tool to create criteria to help improve the chances of succeeding in accomplishing a goal.

While the words within the acronym can vary, for the purpose of board management and strategic planning at board level in this post we define them as:

Specific: the goal addresses a specific area for improvement. 

Measurable: the goal is quantifiable and indicative of progress. 

Attainable: the goal can be realistically achieved given available resources. 

Results Focused: the goal is laser focused on driving results for the organization. 

Time-Bound: the goal should be achieved in a specific time frame. 

Dos and Don'ts

As with all strategic planning, there are a number of ‘Do’s’ and ‘Don’ts’ when it comes to setting effective S.M.A.R.T. goals: 


  • Understand the results you want to achieve (and use data to understand why it’s important.) Twenty-nine percent of ‘best strategy executors’ have C suite executives feeding insights gained for the initiative into the strategy-making/implementation process, versus just 13% of all other respondents.
  • Identify your baseline and set a target. If you want to make your goals measurable you need to understand where you are today and where you want to get to.
  • Clarify who/what the goal will affect. Whether it be a subset of your key stakeholders or a certain part of the organization, your goals should always be set with who/what they will affect top of mind.
  • Set a deadline and make it realistic. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to achieve any strategic goal that will make a difference to the organization overnight. When setting your deadlines look at the data and resources available and be realistic. Typically, we see boards that set a deadline of 3-5 years as those who are most successful in achieving their goals.
  • Make sure to make a public record of your goals and share them with the organization and key stakeholders. When you make the goals of the board visible to all you are holding everyone accountable for attaining them. 


  • Forget to set benchmarks and monitor progress. This should be done separately to annual targets. Benchmarks should be checked on through the course of the year – quarterly check ins, or every three board meetings is a good place to start. 
  • Change the goal posts. If you’re ahead of schedule when it comes to progress don’t change the goal posts. It’s demoralizing to the organization and can cause employees to question the leadership. If you achieve your goal early, celebrate success with the team, the wider organization and with your stakeholders and set a new goal. 

Setting S.M.A.R.T. goals is a critical function of the board. But boards that don’t have an implementation plan in place are unlikely to achieve their strategic goals. In fact, 50% of leaders rated implementation as equal in importance to strategy. That’s where boards can leverage tools and board management software like the NXTBoard Platform that help make strategic planning systematic.