Getting SMART About Training

Getting SMART About Training

How using SMART goals can help drive safety training success.

Chances are you’ve heard of a SMART goal. The acronym SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-related, and it’s been around since consultant and former corporate planning director George Doran introduced the concept in a 1981 paper, “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management’s goals and objectives,” which was published in the journalManagement Review.  

It also turns out that SMART goal planning is a great tool for ensuring sound and effective safety training, according to Rachel Hook, GSP, ASHM, Training and Quality Manager at KPA, which provides safety management and workforce compliance software and services for a wide range of businesses. Hook has a background in safety management and writes and reviews training curricula at KPA.  

“Training is something we do every day here at KPA, and doing it efficiently is something that’s important to us not only for our business but for our employees,” she says. “So having SMART goals that drive training is something that we feel can really help our customers and clients.” 

: A Common Framework

To begin with, SMART goals align everyone’s focus, ensuring that all team members understand that safety is a priority. This alignment helps to foster a positive safety culture and reinforces the message that every aspect of our operations is important, Hook explains.  

That simple SMART acronym then creates a common framework to help the organization shape safety training and ensure its success: 

  • Specific: This addresses questions such as what needs to be achieved, who is responsible, and what steps should be taken to reach these goals. 
  • Measurable: Here, we consider how to track progress. For instance, this could involve using software to monitor training completion rates or to analyze post-training assessment scores. 
  • Achievable: It’s crucial to evaluate whether the goals are attainable within the set timeframe. Do employees have the necessary resources to achieve these goals? 
  • Relevant: This prompts us to reflect on the reasons behind setting these goals. For example, have there been recent increases in workplace incidents, or are there new employees who need training? Understanding the context helps in setting meaningful and impactful goals. 
  • Time-bound: Establishing a deadline provides a clear timeline and helps maintain accountability and discipline. Ensuring employees are trained in a timely manner is essential for them to perform their duties safely and effectively.” 

How would this work in the real world? Well, an example would be providing forklift safety training to the warehouse team. A good SMART goal would be to have all warehouse employees complete forklift safety training by the end of the quarters, Hook says. Why? Because it is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and has a clear timeline. Because that SMART goal is so well defined, it also helps the training planners more rapidly start thinking about the “how,” Hook notes. 

“In this instance, you’re probably going to use a combination of hands-on training, and some software learning for them to retain the information,” she explains. “Are you going to do group training or individual training? What do your employees need to know in order to hit this goal? What resources will they need?” 

Another example might be that a company that has noticed an uptick in hand injuries. Safety managers decide to have all employees participate in at least two safety meetings focused on hand safety by the end of the month. Again, all the characteristics of that plan adhere to the SMART approach, so management can implement that training much more quickly. 

“When will you train them? is it’s going to take place in the morning?” Hook asks. “Will all training take place during work hours? How is this going to be communicated to employees?” 

: Getting Started with SMART Goals

In terms of getting started with using SMART goals for safety training, Hook suggests that trainers let leading indicators help to drive the goals that they implement using the SMART system. 

“I would lead with some things that you’ve been seeing or you have heard about, because that’s going to be relevant and make the most impact,” she explains. “For example, employees might come to you with hazards that they’ve identified and that maybe have been causing some issues. I would identify specific safety hazard risks or other areas for improvement.” 

This helps management and safety managers remain proactive and not reactive when it comes to safety planning. Ideally, the goals being set should be out ahead of any possible problems.  

“When you have identified those goals, you need to communicate them to everyone that’s taught — management down to employees,” Hook says. “But more than just communicating, you need to address why the goal matters. You have to address the ‘why’ behind it and who it’s going to impact. It’s important to involve your team and be transparent on the need for the goals … that way, everyone is on the same page.” 

Once a goal is identified and underway, it’s important to focus on the “measurable” part of the SMART acronym. Different methods to measure progress could be post-training assessments, tabulating the percentage of workers receiving training, and calculating average scores on training, for example. 

“You want to make sure that there’s some type of metric that you can measure these goals by,” Hook stresses. “It’s important to celebrate when goals are hit and training wins are hit.  

“And always be flexible and adjust as needed, based on results and feedback,” she adds. “Your work environment will evolve, new hires will come on, so these trainings will have to adjust and change over time.” 

Avoiding Pitfalls

Most of the problems that occur with SMART goal planning really come down to misapplying the method. 

“It’s important to look at the acronym SMART itself when you’re thinking of pitfalls,” Hook explains. “For example, not being specific enough, or not fleshing out the ‘whys’ behind the goals. If you simply create a goal but are not specific, then you’re going to have a hard time getting buy-in from key stakeholders. Along with that, you can’t have a goal and not communicate it — you have to tell those key stakeholders and your employees. Also, not having a relevant goal will prevent you from improving metrics. If the goal isn’t relevant, you’re not going to see an improvement in injuries or incidents going forward.” 

A big issue Hook says she sees is non-attainability or an impossible timeframe. “If we say, ‘we’re going to have all our employees trained on X by tomorrow,’ that is not realistic,” she underscores.  

Last but not least, Hook cautions that flexibility should be a key part of the process, saying, “Goals might need to be adjusted based on your results and then feedback that you get.” 

This article originally appeared in the June 2024 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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