Why You Need To Be SMART About Your Training Goals

5 Tips For Setting Up SMART Training Goals
Summary: Setting training goals shouldn't be much different than setting personal goals. So, let's take a lesson or two from personal goal setting best practices.

5 Tips For Setting Training Goals

The end of the year brings goal setting to mind. Most of us are familiar with how to set personal goals for the new year. But how about training goals? If you've ever spoken to an ambitious executive, then you know setting realistic training goals can be difficult. Still, we need to set employee training and development goals. If we don't, then how will we know if our programs are successful?

Setting SMART Training Goals

When you set goals, you’ll want to be SMART about it: Specific, Measurable, Aligned with corporate goals, Relevant, and Timely.


Like personal goals, training goals should be specific. In an ideal world, your training goals are like scientific hypotheses—they identify the influencing factors, the relationships between them, and the impact of those factors on the outcome. For example, a large eCommerce company designed a training initiative for its customer service centers around a specific communication skill. They found that the representatives who asked more questions had lower callback rates. So, they formulated a training goal around increasing the number of critical questions. The training strategy taught learners how to ask clarifying questions and practice active listening.


A 2019 report by ATD found that nearly 40% of respondents don’t have access [1] to the data needed for higher-level (Kirkpatrick levels 4 and 5) evaluations. So, it’s no surprise that measuring training outcomes is so difficult. However, there are still some important outcomes that are important to track. For example, when evaluating the success of an employee onboarding program, you may want to measure speed to competency. Luckily, there are some tangible numbers around that timeline that can be measured.

Generally, behavior-based or competency-based training is best for measurement. Well-designed learning portals can help you observe and track your learners as they progress within their courses. Unfortunately, it can be much more difficult to track post-training success, but there are performance measurement platforms that can do the trick. Analysis of your learners’ behaviors before and after training will help you measure their improvements and the overall improvements they bring to the company.

Aligned With Business Goals

If your training goals aren’t aligned with your business goals, then your training won’t bring about the results you want. For example, if the head of your manufacturing group wants to make machine shop technicians more effective, then you probably shouldn't build them brand training. That wouldn’t help technicians much. Systems training around proper machine operation, on the other hand, might go a long way.

Most often the misalignment between business goals and training goals is more subtle than the example above—training objectives might focus on improving a knowledge base when the problem has more to do with motivation or accessibility. So, dive into any underlying organizational issues before building training around a subject. You wouldn't want to spend your time and resources for nothing.


A recent Training Industry research report [2] found that about one-third of respondents faced challenges with content relevancy. Most often, training content loses relevance when information is too general to be applicable or if the audience doesn’t know why they need it. However, there are steps you can take to ensure your content hits the mark:

  1. Build a performance map connecting training to impactful behaviors
  2. Communicate the importance of the training content to your employees
  3. Personalize learner paths

Content relevancy can have a huge impact on business objectives, so it’s important to design your training to target learner motivation as well as key skills.


Break down your training goals into functional sub-goals, then figure out a timeline for each. Learning is a process, and it doesn't happen overnight. But you can set landmarks for your learners so they don't feel overwhelmed by only looking for the finish line. Typical learning paths will have goals for the first day, week, month, quarter, and year. But you can also break down goals based on competencies. For example, you could set learning goals based on how long it should take a learner to complete a process with only a 5% error.


Whether you’re setting personal goals for the new year or setting learning goals for your new hires, use these guidelines to be SMART about it. If you can create training goals that are specific, measurable, aligned with business goals, relevant, and timely, then you can have an impact on your organization.


[1] Effective Evaluation Measuring Learning Programs for Success

[2] Research Report: The Anatomy of the Modern Learning System