With all the material that is so readily available about the importance of setting realistic goals, I would think that most business owners and leaders would have had at least some exposure to the process. Perhaps the most famous approach, if only because it really, really works is the process of setting “SMART” goals. Where SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-based.
If you are not yet completely on board with the SMART goal revolution here is an easy to follow example.
In order to increase my monthly sales revenue, I will – here it comes, folks – “increase my website traffic by 200 visitors this month to a total of 2,500. I will achieve this through an email campaign highlighting new product lines to my existing email network of 6,000 customers.”
Quick test to make sure my goal really is SMART:
- Specific – I will increase website traffic by 200 visits
- Measurable – I will increase 200 to a total of 2,500 visits
- Attainable – I will do this through an email campaign highlighting new product lines to my existing email network of 6,000 customers.
- Relevant – Website visits relate to my core objective to lift my revenue by increasing sales volume
- Time-based – I will increase my website traffic by 200 visitors in one month
To help you along, below is an infographic showing you the simple steps to creating a SMART goal.
So, the process of setting realistic goals is a relatively simple one so long as you stick to the key pillars, right?
Well, yes. In fact, the actual setting of the SMART goal in and of itself is not really where things become tricky for most business owners.
Where does it go wrong?
In our experience, setting realistic goals goes wrong in two places.
The first is that small and medium business have a tendency to be overly optimistic in the setting of goals. The second, and in my view the far more serious problem, is that when the business owner sets the goals they don’t then take the time to align the team with those goals.
Overly optimistic goals
Ok, so first things first, how do you know if you’ve set overly optimistic goals?
We generally find that the setting of overly optimistic goals comes down to the business owner setting goals using some or all of the following flawed thinking:
- The goal is set by what the business owner needs to achieve, not what is actually achievable
- The goal is set without taking into account the workload the team already has
- The goal is set without taking into account the skill sets of the existing team
Taking the SMART goal example from above, an overly optimistic goal would look like these:
- Unrealistic timeline: I will increase my website traffic by 500 visitors in two weeks to a total of 2,800. I will achieve this through an email campaign highlighting new product lines to my existing email network of 6,000 customers.
- Disregard of workload and skill sets: I will increase my website traffic by 200 visitors in one month to a total of 2,500. I will achieve this through targeted SEO including complete website redesign and an audit of all existing blog content.
Setting realistic goals
So, what is the best way to change these patterns and what will the outcome of that change be?
Well, the outcome will be setting goals that are achievable.
Sounds obvious enough?
The reality is, a lot of small business owners forget the importance of setting realistic goals because they tend to agree with the quote,
Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.
But a great leader understands the impact of never quite achieving the goals has on their team. A team working with unrealistic expectations can quickly lose their morale among other things. Continue this way, and you’ll find yourself never being able keep your staff around for longer than a few months.
The best and perhaps only way to change your behaviours around setting these goals in a realistic way is to review every goal with a basic checklist:
- Have I set a goal that is based on what the business can actually achieve?
- Have I taken into account the workload I already have my team under?
- Does my team have the necessary skills to deliver the goal?
If you can answer yes to each of these questions then by all means proceed to the next step. If the answer to any of them was no, then back to the drawing board and start over.
Aligning the team
In our experience, aligning the team is the most important component to achieving the realistic goals you set. It is also where things come off the rails more often than not.
As a business owner, it is easy to get caught up in what the achievement of (or more like not achieving) our business goals will represent. We know too well how tight our cash flow will be at the end of the month if we don’t hit the mark. The risk though, is that we charge ahead without bringing the team with us on the journey.
A team that is united in achieving a goal is a team that understands the purpose of that goal in the first place. If you collaborate with your team in designing the goal at the outset, then they have buy-in and they own a piece of the success of that goal.
So, what are some easy steps that will help with this?
- Show the team the problem your goal is going to address
- Understand their workload
- Help them re-prioritise if necessary
- Listen to their ideas about the goal (they may well be better than yours)
- Offer them the support and guidance they need to achieve the goal
- Be available to help
Getting the most out of your team is never easy but it does not have to be a constant battle either.
There are some key points to avoid in these areas as well. While I generally don’t think writing in the negative is a good idea, when it comes to business owners and their teams there are some key phrases to avoid:
- “If we do not succeed in this goal, there will not be company at the end of it”
- “The future of the business is in your hands”
- “This is our last chance so if we do not achieve this goal, then jobs will be on the line”
You get the idea.
Motivating your team like this is not effective. In most cases they will go back to their desks and start working on their job search techniques. It is your job as their leader to lead them, not to frighten them into submission. It will only breed resentment and failure to achieve the goal.
Motivate your team with positivity and comradery. Use empowering and encouraging statements like “we are in this together” and “we could not achieve this without you, Bill”. My mum used to say when we were kids that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar and that, in my experience remains true today.
So now, armed with some new information you should find yourself ready to have a crack at setting realistic goals with your team and preparing for a powerful start off into the next financial year.