In the early 2000s, I worked for a company that—like many others do all the time—made a big goal that we planned to hit.
It was awesome and important and we were going to achieve it by 2010. It wasn’t an aspirational goal, either; it was an essential milestone for the company and we were all marching toward it.
Yet, as we barreled closer and closer to 2010, it became evident that we weren’t actually going to hit the goal. Not even close. Not by a long shot.
When I sat down at the end of the last quarter with Dani, GAN’s COO, to prepare for our next fiscal year in the coming quarter, we realized something really similar about the goals we’ve created in the past. About 50% of the time, we hit our goals, and we do it with gusto. No issue, half of the time.
But for the other half? They were a real struggle.
This is obviously an issue. Not hitting half of the goals you set out as your most important company milestones is—well, to put it plainly—not good.
But why does this happen? Why do companies consistently not hit major benchmarks, even when they believe they’re essential to moving forward?
I think there’s one big reason.
Like us, there’s a good chance that you create SMART goals, ones that are “Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.” Looking back, though, we’ve realized that we tend to nail the Specific, Measurable, Relevant, and Time-Bound pieces of goals. Our team is downright meticulous about setting goals that can be tracked and goals that truly matter to the company, in large part because Dani is amazing at helping the team do so.
Here’s where we’re not as strong, though. When we looked back to see what was off about our goal setting, we realized that our goals failed to truly be achievable.
What does that really mean, though?
Like many of you, I’m guessing that part of the problem is that we don’t even know how to answer that question. We hadn’t thought these aspects of goals out well enough and hadn’t been doing the deep work necessary to make sure that our goals could truly be hit. During our planning, we’d typically hear a goal, do a quick gut check on it and then move forward, just assuming that the goal was a good one.
Secondly, we had no monthly or weekly roadmaps for each goal that laid out exactly how we’d hit them. There were no rhythms or granular plans around actually achieving goals. We would create it and manage it at a quarterly level. Meaning, we’d get to the end of the quarter and simply ask whether the goal had been hit or not.
And third, we didn’t do a good job at understanding what actually needed to happen to hit that goal by the end of the period. Meaning, we weren’t managing to the method—just the end goal.
How We’re Shifting
Going forward, here are the changes we’re making as a team:
We used to wait until the end of a quarter to define our goals for the following quarter. The only problem is, it meant that we’d end up weeks into the next quarter before really knowing what we should have already started working on. So, now, we begin developing the next quarter’s goals in the middle of the quarter we’re in. This means we also avoid not having enough time to truly do the research around what’s “achievable,” either losing more valuable weeks or just settling for a goal that’s only been half-heartedly researched, just so we can get going on it.
Doing the “math” to understand the goal.
As I said, we used to just make a lot of assumptions that certain goals were “right.” Now, we’re looking at our goals with a lot of thought. We’re truly digging into past performance, client engagement, staff capacity, and all of the data needed to really create goals that we know are rock solid—meaning, they’re not only achievable and realistic, but they’re also enough of a stretch to help us know the company is growing, where needed. This gives us both the proper “numbers” to work from and a picture of what we should “hit” every week in order to know that we’ll hit our final target by the time the quarter has ended.
Then, most importantly, we’re creating a roadmap for how to get there.
With enough time to think about goals properly and the effort of real research behind each goal, we’re no longer managing them from a high level. We’re creating tasks or mini-goals needed to get us to the end result. This sounds a lot like my last point, but the difference is this: Smaller targets help you break down your bigger goal into bite-sized chunks, but you still need to know what to do in order to hit those targets. Our team now provides Dani and I specific tasks they’re going to accomplish in order to hit their targets. Here’s an example: If Nick tells us that he’s going to bring in a certain amount of revenue, three weeks into the quarter, I now also know that—in order to get there—he’s going to hold 12 phone calls with new clients by that date. This way, we don’t just see that he’s not tracking on revenue, but why he’s not tracking on revenue and what we can do to either help him or course-correct partway through the quarter.
Finally, we’re keeping track of the tasks and mini-goals.
Every task and mini-goal created by our team gets put into our project management system (we use Monday.com), which helps us actually see where we’re on track and where we’re not. Dani reviews these task lists during weekly one-on-one sessions with each team member. Then, when we come together as a whole team for our weekly stand-up meetings, the quarterly goals that we’re all marching toward are labeled a red, yellow or green, depending on whether someone is on track or not, and we all see it on screen, in front of us. If someone is behind on the tasks or mini-goals they created in Monday, then that goal gets labeled as yellow or red on the public, team goal tracking doc, and we’re all aware of it. Not so people can be publicly shamed or celebrated, but so that—as a team—we know where we need to help out or where we might need to work through a company problem in order to remove any barriers between someone and they goals they’ve set.
Already, we’re seeing the team get excited about this because 1) We have goals that we can actually hit, and 2) We have goals that we’re all actually going to hit—creating a culture of celebration versus one of guilt and sadness because we achieve what we set out to do. It builds momentum, creates energy, and means the company is, in fact, running well. And that’s something everyone can get behind.