In both business and personal affairs, it’s scientifically proven that setting clear and actionable goals increases your chances of growing or making meaningful change.
But what does that really mean? Remember, it doesn’t have to be New Year’s Eve to make a change or decide to do something in your business (or your life) differently. The best time to set and assess your goals and milestones is right now.
The reality is, most people’s New Year’s resolutions are completely out the window before the end of January, which warrants the question: What is going wrong? Why aren’t people following through on their resolutions? What can that tell us about how to set better goals all year long?
Common issues to avoid when setting goals
If you’re struggling to achieve your goals, don’t throw in the towel just yet. Start by addressing what has caused you to fall short in the past. Here are a few common pitfalls that you may have experienced when setting business goals.
Setting goals with no clear direction
We often set goals—whether it be in our personal or business lives—without thinking about why we’re doing it in the first place. “I’m going to get fit” or “I want to make more money” or “I want to double our sales in the first quarter of 2021″—If this sounds like you, you’re not alone.
The problem is that these types of statements are just that—statements that have little meaning, no reasoning, and that lack specificity. This is why it’s important to consider a series of objectives before attempting to reach that elusive goal.
Setting unrealistic goals
There are many reasons people don’t stick to their goals. But the main reason is that people simply set the bar too high. Resolutions like “lose 50 pounds in two weeks” are unattainable, and people give up on their goal completely when results aren’t showing fast enough.
In business, this is similar to earning $10K one year and expecting to have a 1,000 percent increase in revenue, when in reality there will probably only be a 10 to 15 percent increase (if nothing exponential has changed in your business). You need to create realistic expectations for yourself and your business.
It’s important to recognize what you perceive as “success,” and to make note of your attitude toward failure. Research shows that highly successful people have a strong motive to achieve, whereas their less successful counterparts focus on avoiding failure.
Do you tend to blame external factors when you don’t succeed? Or do you take responsibility, persevere, and view setbacks as an opportunity for growth?
If you’re constantly giving up after every setback, you’ll never achieve the goals you set. This is why it’s vital to have milestones, metrics, or other ways of measuring success to help you navigate failure or missteps.
How to set achievable goals
Now you know what to avoid, but how do you actually set achievable goals? Follow these 5 steps to find out.
1. Set SMART Goals
Although it’s unrealistic to set extremely high expectations initially, it’s not unwise to have lofty goals. Having an array of goals, ranging from ones that are achievable, likely, and possible, is great when thinking about the future.
The “achievable” goals would be ones that can be completed in the near future, “likely” being ones that could be accomplished in the near future depending on certain factors, and “possible” goals being a little more far-fetched but could eventually happen if you or your business reach a certain point.
The best way to organize these different possibilities is by laying them out as SMART Goals.
What are SMART Goals?
Smart is simply an acronym that represents steps for goal setting. In general, your goals should be:
Some professionals think this should be expanded to SMARTER to include evaluated and reviewed in the process as well. While we do agree with the need to evaluate and review, this should be an active part of your business rather than a simple step when outlining goals. For more on that, check out our article on running a monthly plan review meeting.
2. Answer specific questions
To hone in on the specifics of your goals, you need to walk yourself through these five questions.
- What do I want to accomplish?
- Why is this goal important?
- Who is involved?
- Where is it located?
- Which resources will be involved?
By answering these questions, you can quickly identify if a goal is relevant to your business, and if it will truly accomplish what you expect it to. You’ll also allocate resources and team members in this stage, setting clear parameters for how it will be accomplished and who will lead the process.
3. Set performance indicators
Knowing why you’re pursuing a goal, what you hope to accomplish, and what resources will be involved isn’t enough. You also need to determine what success looks like by establishing performance indicators to help track your process.
You should hope to answer questions such as:
- What is our required return on investment?
- How many additional sales or sign-ups do we need?
- How do we know when the goal is accomplished?
These measurements may include both data-driven indicators as well as actionable steps that must be taken. By tracking results, you can quickly identify if you’re on the right track or if you need to pivot your goals based on poor performance. The metrics you decide to track will fully depend on your business or project, but here are a few key metrics we recommend you consider.
4. Determine if your goal is achievable and relevant
We’ll tie these two steps in developing SMART Goals together since they both will tell you if your goal is actually possible or not.
First, you need to determine if your goal is actually possible. When originally laying out your goals, it’s worth throwing everything out there no matter how crazy the idea sounds. From there, it’s up to you to hone in on what is actually possible by determining what sort of time, monetary, and other constraints may limit your pursuits.
The other side of this is determining if you’re new goals are actually relevant to your business. Is it applicable to your current business needs? Are there other goals that should take priority? Does the time, money, and effort spent seem worthwhile?
If you answer “no” to any questions at this point, then it’s probably time to roll back to step 1 or find alternate paths for your current goal. The best thing you can do is establish OKR’s (Objectives and Key Results) for your business that act as a guiding light for what’s important. The great thing is that you can actually walk through this same process to set those larger goals, but having them established will help make any future goal-setting decisions that much easier.
5. Set a schedule
The last thing you need to do is set a target date to complete your goals. This is meant to help you prioritize your larger projects and goals as you deal with day-to-day actions. But it’s not enough to just set a finish date, to really give yourself a chance you need to establish milestones.
These can be moments where you review progress, expect to complete a stage of your goal, or when you need to decide on how to proceed. By setting smaller stages within your larger schedule, you’ll make sure you never lose track of your goals and can actively make decisions to help you achieve them.
If you have a business plan, you can actually utilize it to set milestones and create a roadmap for your business.
Additional ways to help ensure you accomplish your goals
Once you’ve gone through the process and have your goals in place, there are a few other things you can do to improve your chances of actually achieving them.
Maybe your 2021 goal is to update your business plan. First thing—tell someone close to you, or a group of people—about your goals. This way, you become more accountable for your actions and have the support from others to keep you going. Even better is if you can partner up with someone who has a similar goal so you can support each other.
Regular praise from your network can give you a much-needed boost at critical points in your quest for success. This injection of positivity is something you can’t get if you go at it alone. On the flip side, it’s much easier to quit if you’re the only person you have to answer to.
You don’t have to be all work and no play while taking those steps to victory. You should be setting goals that are challenging, but that are also interesting, inspiring, and that makes you want to get out of bed in the morning.
Take time out to reward yourself and give yourself permission to take breaks when the going gets tough. It all comes back to the reason for why you’re doing it in the first place. If you can’t have a bit of fun along the way, is it really worth it?
Just as much as a goal should be achievable, there’s little point in setting a goal that’s too easy. If you’ve already run several half marathons, it’s clearly not going to be too taxing to take on one more. Signing up for a full marathon or ironman competition then is a different story.
Doing things that stretch and challenge you is what makes life exciting, and makes the feeling of achievement that much sweeter.
Try it for yourself
You should now have enough information to have the confidence to set challenging but achievable targets and conquer them. Don’t be afraid of failure when trying to reach your goals. You often learn more from your mistakes than from your successes.
This year, how are you going to make sure that you succeed in what you set out to achieve?
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2016. It was updated for 2021.