Comparing SMART Goals vs CLEAR Goals

Most organizations set goals but few create a detailed plan for how they’ll meet them. At Reviewsnap, we advocate establishing goals at every level of the org chart and mapping out how each will be accomplished.

That means starting at the top and setting big objectives the organization hopes to achieve, like revenue or growth targets. Next, you need to define the results each department will need to contribute. And the last, and most important step is to set goals for every employee that will result in success for their team and ultimately the organization.

Setting impactful goals for every single employee makes sense in theory but is often a challenge to apply. Fortunately, there are different strategies that help managers meet all the criteria for setting effective employee goals. 

In this article, we’ll compare two popular goal-setting methodologies—SMART goals and CLEAR goals. 

What are SMART goals?

When it comes to goal-setting strategies, the SMART approach is one of the most widely used. It takes the core requirements for effective goals and packages them into a clever, easy-to-remember acronym. Let’s explore each component of SMART goals:


Before an employee can set out to attain a goal, they first need to understand exactly what it is. Try to avoid vague objectives that are open to interpretation and ensure managers meet with direct reports to explain what their goals are, why they’re important, and how they can be accomplished. 


Goals are ideally quantifiable. However, results aren’t cut and dry for every position so make subjective goals specific by applying metrics or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that will be used to define success. 


Goals should be right the balance of challenging and practical. Ambitious targets encourage motivation and productivity. But excessive expectations cause stress, burn out, and poor morale. 


Employees should be asked to do work that benefits their team and the organization. They should also have goals that are within the scope of their job responsibilities and are achievable with their skills and knowledge. 


Goals should always have a deadline so employees work toward their targets at a steady pace. It should be tight but not unreasonable and align with the deadlines for broader objectives. 

Download Trakstar’s (formerly Reviewsnap) Talent Development Planner here to set SMART goals related to talent development.

What are CLEAR goals?

Besides also using the acronym format, CLEAR goals have a lot in common with SMART goals. They include similar themes as well as other components that are worth considering when establishing employee goals. Let’s breakdown the CLEAR goals concept:


Employees should work together by each using their unique skills and expertise to help their team meet its objectives. Each person’s solo achievements should build on each other and result in bigger accomplishments. 


Like the “achievable” and “timely” components in SMART goals, CLEAR goals are limited in terms of duration and difficulty. They have a start and endpoint and are realistically achievable within that time frame. 


Employees should get excited by the prospect of attaining their goals because they’ll do work they enjoy and are good at. And when a goal is met, their manager should applaud them for a job well done so they feel good about their achievement. 


Goals should be broken into a series of smaller objectives that add up to a big win. Appreciable goals prevent an employee from feeling overwhelmed by a large, long-term target since there is a step-by-step plan for accomplishing it. 


Managers should always be willing to adjust objectives and deadlines as priorities change and unforeseen challenges arise. This is an effective way to ensure goals never cross the line from ambitious to out-of-reach.

Takeaways: SMART goals vs CLEAR goals 

Most organizations use SMART goals because the concept has proven to work time and time again. That said, CLEAR goals offer a few ideas worth keeping in mind. Let’s conclude with the key takeaways from both goal-setting methodologies:

  • Always make goals specific – Ensure goals are objective, supported by success metrics, and come with a deadline. The employee should know exactly what they’re striving for.
  • Have a plan – Targets are far more likely to be hit when they’re accompanied by a plan. Map out micro-goals that will culminate in a big objective being met.
  • Set ambitious yet realistic goals – Set goals that are challenging but not unrealistic. And always revise goals if an employee falls behind for reasons beyond their control. 
  • Put employees in a position to succeed – Set goals that make sense for the employee’s role and give them the resources and support needed to be successful.
  • Help employees see the fruits of their labor – Managers should tell employees what benefits their work will result in and give recognition when they meet a goal. 
  • Build upward with accomplishments – As we said in the intro, the entire staff should contribute to broad, high-level objectives. Make sure every employee does their part to propel their team and the organization forward.

Regardless of your goal-setting process, remember these points whenever you define employee objectives. Goals that are “smart” and “clear” result in success far more often than ones that are assigned to an employee without much consideration.