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The HR function is generally considered the gatekeeper to an organization’s productive workforce. It’s a strategic business partner that enables organizational growth, among other things, by hiring the right talent, aligning learning and development objectives to organizational needs, etc.

But HR is no longer a support function responsible solely for hiring and retention. New operational norms will fall into place as organizations embark more aggressively on their digital transformation journeys.

And here is where HR revisits their fundamental goals, such as hiring new talent, employee retention, communication, employee appraisals, etc., and aligns these goals to changing realities. And thus, realign policies and processes.

It goes without saying that HR decisions directly impact the organization’s business goals, making it important that HR human resource professionals have the right HR SMART goals.

What are HR SMART goals and objectives?

HR SMART goals bring much-needed clarity and alignment. SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely - typically goals that aren't vague, misguided, or impossible to achieve.

SMART goals break down the organization's overarching vision into small, bite-sized chunks for every department that they can use to set their members' KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) and OKRs (Objectives and Key Responsibilities).

As organizations focus on innovation or growing their business through new market opportunities, and HR goal that says "increase hiring by 200% compared to last year" would be going off on a tangent from the organization's goals.

Why should HR professionals set SMART goals?

SMART goals help the HR department keep the organization's objective always insight and work towards the organization's greater good.

Without goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely, even the most well-intentioned plans can fall through.

SMART goals for HR professionals give them tangible targets and the means to achieve them, keeping them focused and motivated throughout. HR professionals can notch their progress against set milestones.

They can quickly identify any deviation from the predefined path and immediately correct it, minimizing time and resource wastage.

HR SMART goals help HR quantify their requirements, so they clearly understand what needs to be asked from the board, whether budget and resources, to meet their goals.

In the same vein, HR SMART goals also help quantify the results, such as percentage contribution to the organization's overall growth in terms of brand enhancement, 360-degree feedback, and an improved skill pool.

When followed consistently, SMART goals give the company culture a significant push in the right direction, making it desirable for both future candidates and investors.

Examples of SMART goals for Human Resources

If, for instance, the company had to cut costs, the HR department's SMART goal would be to "increase annual retention from 80% to 90%." The reasoning: the company cannot afford to lose existing talent since it can’t hire new people.

During economic upheavals, companies may become complacent about retention harbouring the impression that employees value job security over anything else and hence will not take a risk by switching jobs.

However, the April 2021 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (under the U.S. Department of Labor) reveals that there's little change in employee turnover compared to the previous years, which makes the SMART goal of retention even more relevant.

This SMART goal can be further broken down into tactics to achieve the goal, such as rewards and recognition programs to motivate employees, opportunities to upskill/reskill, etc.

Let's look at some more examples of how SMART goals for HR professionals would look like:

SMART goals for HR professionals #1: Talent acquisition

Companies looking to hire may seek to reduce their cost-per-hire. Therefore, the talent acquisition team should reduce expenses attached to the recruitment process (such as reviewing applications and interviewing candidates), travel and relocation for the selected candidates, and other administrative tasks.

Since most of the hiring now happens virtually, recruiters need to make their screening process more efficient. Luckily, there’s a wide range of recruitment software that aims to speed up the recruitment process and improve the quality of hire.

Only the suitable candidates get netted, and team leads needn't waste precious time interviewing ill-suited candidates.

So, a SMART goal for talent acquisition would be:

I want to reduce the cost-per-hire by 20% at the end of this quarter by making my screening process more efficient.

Breaking down the goal into its components, we get sub-goals that are

  • Specific: I want to reduce the cost-per-hire
  • Measurable: by 20%
  • Attainable: by making the screening process more efficient
  • Relevant: to help the organization manage its costs
  • Timely: at the end of this quarter

The goal now sets a clear direction for the team and gives them the means to achieve it. The target is realistic, and the results are tangible, motivating the team.

SMART goals for HR professionals #2: Retention

As we discussed already, employee retention is the need of the hour and takes precedence over hiring. HR needs to make its employees feel valued and instill pride and loyalty towards the organization, something that pay hikes alone cannot do.

Here's what a SMART goal for retention could look like:

I want to improve my employee retention rate to 90% from 80% last year by making employees feel more valued.

Breaking down this goal into its components, we get sub-goals that are

  • Specific: I want to improve my employee retention rate
  • Measurable: to 90%
  • Attainable: from 80% to 90% in a year
  • Relevant: to reduce churn and save the company replacement costs
  • Timely: in a year

The means to this goal could be sending goodie bags with appreciation notes, quarterly rewards for hitting targets, promotions and pay hikes, etc.

SMART goals for HR professionals #3: Upskilling and reskilling

A recent survey by Gartner involving HR professionals - Top 5 Priorities for HR Leaders in 2022 - revealed that 68% of HR leaders surveyed prioritized building critical skills and competencies. 

Upskilling also significantly impacts hiring and retention. Companies can train their existing workforce in new skills instead of hiring new talent (which is the costlier option). Employees are less likely to leave an organization if they're given opportunities to learn and grow.

A SMART HR goal for upskilling (or reskilling) employees would be:

I want to allocate 20% of the annual HR budget towards skill development and make employees learn one new skill per quarter.

Breaking down this goal into its components, we get sub-goals that are

  • Specific: focus on skill development
  • Measurable: track progress in performance after learning the skill
  • Attainable: allocate 20% of the annual HR budget
  • Relevant: better performance and improved employee satisfaction
  • Timely: one new skill per quarter

HR can either invest in online certification courses that employees can choose (relevant to their work) or hire external instructors to train teams.

SMART goals for HR professionals #4: Performance Appraisals

Yearly performance appraisals are arguably the most taxing times for leaders and employees alike. Pent-up emotions flare up as grievances are aired; some employees make impulsive decisions to quit.

Here's what a SMART goal for performance appraisals could look like:

I want to make the performance appraisal process hassle-free for employees and managers by encouraging open communication and regular feedback.

Breaking down this goal into its components, we get sub-goals that are

  • Specific: make the performance appraisal process hassle-free
  • Measurable: employee OKRs
  • Attainable: encourage open communication
  • Relevant: reduce the hassle that makes employees disgruntled or causes them to quit
  • Timely: routine feedback

Open communication coupled with regular feedback ensures no surprises during the D-day, making the process tension-free and enjoyable for both managers and employees.


As the American businessman Douglas Conant says,

"To win in the marketplace, you must first win in the workplace."

HR professionals help companies achieve this victory through their policies, and SMART goals enable HR to craft successful policies.

SMART goals lift the fog and help HR professionals see a long way down the road. They also provide clear milestones, signals, and signposts so that HR never loses its way and always reaches the destination - a fast-growing company with happy, productive employees.

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Mary Madhavi Reddy

Mary Madhavi Reddy LinkedIn

Mary is a content marketer with 20 years of experience. Her career spans GE Money, Google, and some growth-stage startups. At Empuls, she handles product messaging and positioning.