Regardless of your personal methods for success, as a leader you’re responsible for providing your team with the tools and resources they need to be successful. They look to you for professional development, goal setting guidelines, and feedback.

Without goals, teams and individuals alike are left with little direction and motivation to succeed, so many companies turn to SMART goals to improve productivity and performance. As review, SMART stands for:


We’ve seen the SMART model work very well for setting goals, but what about providing feedback? If you’re a manager or team leader and have your employees making and sticking to SMART goals, it is valuable to provide SMART feedback once the goal is achieved (or not). So, how do you provide specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely feedback? It’s easier than you think.

Specific: One of my favorite movie scenes is from Forgetting Sarah Marshall, when Paul Rudd’s character plays a space-shot surfing instructor and keeps giving vague advice to Jason Segel’s character:

If you give ambiguous, sometimes contradicting feedback, you’ll never see the results you’re looking for. Explaining specific expectations before, during, and after a task will limit the chances of misunderstanding and poor execution.

Measurable: By providing your team with quantifiable objectives to meet, there is no uncertainty on what the goal must be. There are no gray areas in numbers. This includes how much or how many as well as when goals will be met. When goals are measurable, feedback is more fair, less subjective, and clearer.

Achievable: It is pointless to set unachievable goals. (This goes for yourself as a leader and anyone you’re setting goals for.) Setting lofty, unrealistic goals makes it difficult to motivate your team to reach them. Giving feedback as employees make progress toward a goal makes it more likely for that goal to be achieved. This step-by-step approach is a good way to provide effective feedback throughout the entire process.

Realistic: The expectations you set for your team must be realistic: high enough that they will still be motivated to work hard, but low enough that they will be able to reach their goals. It’s important to understand how your employees work, not only to help them set realistic goals but in order to provide realistic feedback. Your feedback should relate to the goal and the steps taken to reach the goal.

Timely: Feedback that is given directly upon the completion of a goal (or once the specific timeframe for goal achievement has passed) is more effective than feedback provided at a later time. Think back to grade school when you would write a long paper, but then not get it back for weeks. Chances are, anything you learned while writing that paper was replaced with new knowledge, and it would take some cognitive digging to understand the context of your teacher’s feedback. The same goes for your employees; give feedback when the goal or process is still front-of-mind and relevant.

The bottom line is, as a leader, you hold your team accountable for reaching their goals. But it is your responsibility to provide them with the resources and feedback they need along the way to succeed. The SMART model has worked wonders in the past for setting and achieving goals; try to see how it works for providing effective feedback.