UCL Human Resources


Setting SMARTER Stretching Objectives

This is good practice guidance

What is an objective?

The process of setting and agreeing stretching objectives is important to ensure that expectations are clear, fair and consistent. Staff should understand what is expected of them and the behaviours required to achieve them. Managers should be aware of any personal circumstances and reflect these when setting achievable stretching objectives.

It is helpful to differentiate between goals and stretching objectives.

  • Goals relate to our aspirations, purpose and vision.
  • Stretching objectives are the plan, the stepping stones on the path towards the achievement of that goal.

Stretching objectives should focus on the outcomes – what will achievement of the objective look or feel like? What improvements will be achieved on completion? They may relate to key performance indicators (KPIs) and/or different behaviours, e.g. cultural change.

Where should stretching objectives come from?

Individual stretching objectives should be linked to corporate and faculty/ division/ departmental objectives as well as any personal (e.g. research or developmental) goals.

Managers should ensure that some of their own stretching objectives specifically relate to UCL's management competencies of leadership, people and resource management and organisational citizenship/ awareness. Equality and quality issues should also be embedded within the stretching objectives.


When writing stretching objectives is helpful to use the SMARTER acronym. Most people will be familiar with the SMART acronym. SMARTER extends the concept in that it recognises the importance of engagement.










Achievable (Agreed)


Time specific



What exactly do you need to do, with or for whom?

Is it measurable and can you/your manager measure it?

Can it be achieved in the timeframe set, with the resources available and is there support (managerially/ politically) for it to be done? Is it a priority?

Will this objective lead to the end goal?

When will this be accomplished / completed?

The objective should stretch your capabilities or make a significant contribution to the department/ faculty/ UCL's goals

The achievement of the objective should be rewarding to the individual and UCL.

There is no single correct way to write a SMARTER objective, but it is helpful to think through some of the following tips:

Specific:Be concrete. Use action verbs
Measurable:  May be numeric or descriptive of quantity, quality or cost. How will you evidence that the objective has been met?
Achievable:The objective should be appropriately limited in scope (it is better to split big stretching objectives into sub stretching objectives for clarity, especially if there are different deadlines, targets or measures) and within the employee's control and sphere of influence.
Relevant:Measure outputs or results not activities
Time specific:Identify target dates, including interim milestones and plans to monitor progress
Extending:Should be challenging and make a difference to established practices, ways of doing things. Does it link to the bigger picture / goals?
Rewarding:What's in it for the employee as well as for UCL? What motivates them to want to complete this objective? Is it something they can get passionate about and fully engaged?

Remember the SMARTER approach is a test to be carried out after writing the stretching objectives to test their validity – it is not an order to be followed or a constraint to be applied when developing stretching objectives.

Phrases to be avoided

  • Liaise with
  • Develop a relationship with
  • Contribute to
  • Represent
  • Update knowledge

Keep asking yourself why you are doing something until you get to the understanding of what you need to achieve. e.g. starting objective: manage my team effectively

Q: how will you know if you have managed your team effectively (what is the measure)? Measures could include the team achieving their stretching objectives successfully or improved standards.

When are you going to check the measures have been achieved (time related)?

revised objective: Ensure members of my team meet their objectives by 30 Sept.

You may want to further specify specific team stretching objectives.

How you will achieve this, may include:

  • coaching members of the team at least once a month
  • giving regular constructive feedback
  • ensuring development needs are identified and met

but these are not the objective in themselves.

The Acid Test

Your manager leaves two weeks before your appraisal is due and a new manager takes over. This person has no knowledge of your work. Can you prove to your new manger that you have achieved all your stretching objectives, because the stretching objectives are clear and the measures explicit?