The Power of SMART Criteria


Want to set clearer, more measurable goals for your staff? Get SMART: Specific. Measurable. Attainable. Relevant. Time-bound.

This acronym dates back to a 1981 issue of Management Review magazine, in which consultant George T. Doran proposed it as a guide for managers to write meaningful objectives. SMART criteria provide a clear and simple framework for setting and measuring goals, which is why they continue to be applied in businesses across the globe today.

The real beauty of SMART is that it compels managers to clearly consider and define goals and objectives as they set them. That tends to result in goals that are easy for staff to understand and follow.

That’s critical, because no one can go anywhere unless they know where they are going. 

Setting goals

In MBA classes, goal-setting begins with vision, mission, and planning stuff. While all that is useful, the most successful restaurant managers I’ve seen start with communication and getting staffers to put “skin in the game.”

Warren Buffett coined that phrase to describe investors who use their own funds. But it also applies to leadership and motivation. It’s virtually impossible to motivate another person. All we can do is influence others. Until they decide to motivate themselves, success cannot happen. 

How do you get an employee to put skin in the game? By finding out exactly what they want on a personal and professional level, and figuring out how that intersects with your goals for the business. This requires two-way communication. And it’s likely to take time. But the end result is worth it: Each party will understand what the other wants. Then it’s a matter of setting a SMART goal that will connect point A (where we are now) to point B (where we both agree we need to be). 

Defining success

Let’s use the host/hostess role as an example of what I mean. Let’s say your hostess gets distressed when the lobby fills up with waiting diners. Ask her (in a non-accusatory manner) why she finds this situation difficult. She may identify a fear of dealing with impatient people. That’s a trait many of us share. Tell her that. Then work together to address her unease.

You likely can agree that guests get impatient when they’re kept in the dark about how much longer they’ll have to wait for a table. Now agree on a goal to overcome that, perhaps something like, “We will reduce the anxiety of guests waiting for tables by frequently communicating their wait time.”

Next, decide—together—how you’re going to accomplish that goal. One way is to have the hostess walk the floor every five minutes to assess how many diners appear to be close to finishing, and relay that information to those waiting. Another strategy might be to instruct servers to let the hostess know when they’ve delivered the receipt to a table, so she can alert the people next in line and let the others know where they are relative to that. 

Getting SMART

Once you agree on a means to tackle the goal, make it SMART. Commit the goal to paper and list the SMART criteria that will guide you and the hostess in achieving it. For example:

Specific. Starting this Friday evening, we will reduce guest anxiety over wait times by updating them every five minutes.

Measurable. We will use the guest waiting sheet to keep track of how many five-minute updates each guest is provided before they are seated.

Attainable. We agree that this goal can be achieved by following the strategy we’ve laid out.  

Relevant. We are placating guest anxiety and conveying a strong message that superior service begins at the front door. That’s certainly relevant to the business. We also are helping the hostess conquer a fear, and that’s relevant to her future. 

Timebound. This activity will be part of the hostess assessment each evening.

This exercise brings you and your hostess into agreement about what success will look and feel like, what it will mean to the business, and what it will mean to her as a person. Writing it down makes it real. Each of you should sign and date this document; it confirms that you both have skin in the game.

Establish SMART criteria for each person and position in your business. It’s a time-consuming process, but it’s an excellent way to establish criteria of success for every role and give every staffer a roadmap to achieving that success.

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