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How to Make SMART Goals for Employee Onboarding Plans

Ross Simons

Ross Simons

Director of Inbound Marketing
making smart goals for new hire onboarding

The key to conquering any overwhelming circumstance is to break it down into manageable tasks. Find yourself in an unfamiliar city? Get the lay of the land by visiting the top 10 destinations in a trusted guidebook. Starting a 1,000-piece puzzle? Build the edges first.

Even more so than working on a puzzle or visiting a strange city, starting a new job is a disorienting situation when it can seem like you’ll never get up to speed. There’s just so much to learn, so many people to meet and, ultimately, so much expected of you. The feeling of uncertainty can be almost too much to bear.

As an employer, you don’t want your new hires thinking they bit off more than they can chew. The quicker new employees settle in, the faster they become productive contributors. A shocking percentage of new hires leave the job within the first three months, saying they felt overwhelmed, neglected, and under-appreciated.

Management can help new hires get acclimated, boost productivity, and reduce turnover by working with new employees to break the immense onboarding task into manageable pieces that progress toward mastery. Management experts call these bite-sized targets SMART goals.

What Are SMART Goals?

All too often in business and many other facets of life (fitness, for example), when we’re not floundering with no clear objectives whatsoever, we set goals that are vague, out of reach, hard to define, or all of the above. Management experts designed the SMART system to help people focus on better goals.

SMART is an acronym, each element of which addresses a typical goal-setting shortfall, while helping both the person undertaking the task and the organization achieve success. The acronym’s meaning varies but the most common variant defines SMART as specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound.


While a SMART goal can be part of a larger initiative, the goal itself should be about achieving a single, well-defined objective. A SMART goal should stipulate exactly what needs to be accomplished, who’s responsible, and what steps they must take to achieve the goal.

For example, your company may want to increase sales this quarter but “increase sales” is a non-specific goal. Individual team members would not know what’s expected of them. A more specific goal would be, “Deborah will reach out by phone and schedule three meetings with sales-qualified leads.”


How do you know when you’ve achieved a goal — or still have some work to do? The “measurable” aspect of a SMART goal is about tracking progress.

Every SMART goal should include quantifiable benchmarks. In the example above, Deborah will know when she’s achieved her goal because she’s scheduled three meetings, no more, no less.

Keep in mind that “measurable” doesn’t necessarily mean that a SMART goal must contain numbers (though numbers can be very helpful). For example, “Complete the first module of the sales training course” is a measurable goal; either you’ve completed the module or you haven’t.


Remember how, in the “specific” step, we said a SMART goal should define who’s responsible for achieving the goal? The goal should be within reach for that person, with their particular skillset and experience. Put simply, a SMART goal is within the realm of possibility.

This is an especially crucial factor to consider when setting goals for new hires. It’s unrealistic to expect a new hire to have the same capabilities as a veteran employee. An achievable goal would take a new hire’s lack of experience into account, while helping them develop a veteran’s skills.

Going back to Deborah and her sales meetings, for example, it may be enough for Deborah to schedule the meetings — she may not be ready to lead them. As a new team member, her next SMART goal may be to observe the three sales meetings led by a more experienced colleague (and, of course, the SMART goal would identify that person specifically).


There’s no place for busywork when setting SMART goals. A SMART goal has value — to the organization and the individual achieving the goal. Moreover, a SMART goal has value right now; it’s not something that can, or should be, postponed.

For example, Deborah is assigned to schedule three sales meetings because her company is facing stiff competition this quarter and is looking to grow. Also, she needs to quickly learn the sales role so she can contribute to her company’s growth.

Time Bound

SMART goals are not open ended. Rather, they include a specific timeframe in which to achieve the goal. Setting a goal’s end date instills a sense of urgency and helps those working to achieve the goal focus. We all know how tempting it can be to deprioritize a project with no deadline.

Let’s go, yet again, to Deborah and her sales meetings. You’ll notice we didn’t include a timeframe for the goal, so technically, it isn’t a SMART goal. “Deborah will reach out by phone and schedule three meetings with sales-qualified leads by the end of the quarter.” Now that’s SMART.

Using SMART Goals for Onboarding

SMART goals are ideal for onboarding because they eliminate uncertainty and feelings of being lost and out of your depth. New employees come to work each day knowing exactly what to focus on. The right SMART goals give new hires a clear path toward reaching the comfort and productivity levels enjoyed by their more experienced teammates.

SMART goals during onboarding help management, too. Because all properly made SMART goals have measurable outcomes and set timeframes, management can use them as benchmarks for assessing new employee performance.

The 30/60/90 Approach to Onboarding

SMART goals go hand in hand with 30/60/90 onboarding plans. A 30/60/90 onboarding plan is a document that sets milestones for new employees to reach within the first 30 days of their employment, the first 60 days, and the first 90 days.

Typically, new hires and their supervisors will work together during the first week or so on the job to create a 30/60/90 plan, and they’ll meet periodically to review the employee’s progress. A typical 30/60/90 plan will include 30 days of learning and groundwork laying, 30 days of getting acquainted with essential job functions, and 30 days of really digging in.

The SMART system can help managers precisely define 30/60/90 objectives for new hires. For example:

  • Days 1 to 30: “Deborah will consume all company sales training material, shadow experienced sales rep Todd for three sales meetings, and run through 10 mock sales calls with her supervisor, Maureen.”
  • Days 31 to 60: “Deborah will reach out by phone and schedule three meetings with sales-qualified leads and help Todd prep for each meeting. She’ll send a follow-up email to each prospect.”
  • Days 61 to 90: “Deborah will take point on three meetings with sales-qualified leads, closing at least one deal.”

More Ways to Get SMART About Onboarding

Setting SMART goals as part of a 30/60/90 plan is just one way to help your new hires transition smoothly into your organization. Click here for three more unique ideas for improving your employee onboarding experience, and read our featured post about onboarding remote workers.

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