Since the early 1980s, management consultants have used an acronym — S.M.A.R.T. — to guide people through effective, objective goal-setting. That easy acronym is still one of the most popular frameworks for performance management in the workplace — or in any other goal setting for that matter.

Over time, this acronym has been tweaked and expanded. One variation is to make goals S.M.A.R.T.E.R., which indicates that goal setting is an ongoing, continuous improvement process. Performance management systems should adopt the basic principles captured in these helpful acronyms.

The S is for "Specific." That means a goal should be specific, rather than ambiguous or overly broad. It should answer the what, who, how, where and why about the goal.

The M is for "Measurable." That means the goal should have metrics that quantify whether the goal has been achieved. In other words, it should be objective and not subjective. It should answer questions such as how many? How much? Or, how will you know the goal has been accomplished? The goal may also include interim measurements to gauge success along the way. As Peter Drucker once said: "You can’t manage what you can’t measure."

The A is for "Attainable" or "Achievable." That means the goal should not be a fantasy. It should actually be attainable or achievable with some degree of effort. Achievable goals are motivating. Impossible goals can be counter-productive and unmotivating. Attainable goals may require a stretch, but if you put together a step-by-step plan, and work it, they can result in the desired improvement.

The R is for "Relevant." That means the goal must be important and actually relate to the overall job. A relevant goal involves the right person, at the right time and is worthwhile in context. Relevant goals are interrelated and aligned with team or organization goals and help to move the overall group in a particular direction.

The T is for "Time-Based" or "Time-Bound." That means there are temporal components of the goal. This component answers the question "by when?" It means that certain things will be achieved by a certain time and have a definitive completion date. This component requires a deadline that drives you toward an ultimate conclusion with a sense of urgency. A deadline helps maintain focus and prevents everyday distractions from getting you off course from achieving the goal.

The precise words of this acronym may have been modified over time by different experts. For example, some experts use significant or simple for the S; motivational or meaningful for the M; appropriate, agreed-upon or aligned for the A; results-oriented or reasonable for the R; and time-oriented or trackable for the T. Despite these slight variations, the S.M.A.R.T. acronym still provides an excellent format for goal-setting.

The original paradigm included just the S.M.A.R.T. components. Along the way, practitioners realized that goal-setting is a continuous process and modified the original acronym to add two other components.

The E is for "Evaluate." That means after the first time period of the goal, you should stop, reflect and evaluate. This requires the goal setter to be self-critical and introspective. Was the initial goal achieved? If so, what should be done next? If the goal was not met, then why not? What parts of the goal need to be changed?

The R is for "Revise and Repeat." After evaluating the initial goal, the next step is to revise or restate the goals for a new time period. Then, the process continues with constant goal-setting, evaluation and revision going forward. Thereafter, the process never stops and the goal-setting cycles keep repeating themselves with an eye toward continuous improvement.

Whether you use the S.M.A.R.T. or S.M.A.R.T.E.R. framework, these basic principles are time-tested and proven to be effective in getting groups of people aligned with organizational goals. Some variation of these acronyms should be incorporated into your performance management programs or systems.