In 2013, I gave an interview to a blogger prior to my business launch. We had secured the .club domain extension as a new competitor to .com, .net and .org. During that interview, I boldly claimed we could sell “5 million names in 5 years.” With .com at 120 million, why couldn’t we do 5 million?

Five years later: We neared 1 million names, a resounding success! Yet, I faced criticism: “What about the 5 million promise?”

My reply? “I was afflicted with the entrepreneurial disease of optimism.”

The end of year is a time when entrepreneurial optimism runs rampant. As companies project into the New Year, it can be easy for leaders to be overly optimistic with their goals. Stretch goals are great, but they also need to be achievable.

3 Tips to Set Realistic Goals

  1. Don’t set too many SMART goals.
  2. Be aspirational but also realistic.
  3. Use tools to set and track employee SMART goals.

The line is thin between visionary belief and reality. Jim Collins in his book Good To Great summarizes it well: “You must maintain unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, and at the same time, have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

Optimism is pivotal in a startup for fostering belief in the vision. But failing to be aligned on goals or being too optimistic can drain the enthusiasm for both the company and the team. Here’s how to set realistic goals in 2024 while still retaining that optimism.

 

3 Tips for Setting Realistic Goals

1.Don’t Set Too Many SMART Goals

SMART goals is an acronym for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. Those are the fundamentals for any effective goal. It’s important to set a goal for your entire company. Those companies that set goals tend to outperform those that don’t. 

In 2006, I was running a publicly traded company with my brother. We had done pretty well for the first six years, but our revenue began to flatline. Our team would often miss their targets and ultimately so would the company. Arguments between members ensued, and I even had a board member come to me questioning I had the experience running this company.

Early on in a startup, it’s okay to be ad hoc, but when you want to scale, you need to begin implementing systems. To turn the company around, we implemented two days of strategic planning, 88 days of execution, daily sales huddles, sales training techniques and goal setting

We set goals for our company, starting with our big hairy audacious goals (BHAG). And with this one, it is important to be aspirational, as it generally can take 10-year years to hit it. We set a three-year goal, one-year goal, and a quarterly goal for the company. The key is that you only set three-to-five SMART goals. Too many times, we come up with a laundry list of goals, only to deliver half measures for each. The fewer goals, the more focused and better the outcome. 

More on Goal SettingWhat Are Short-Term Career Goals (With 12 Examples)

 

2. Be Aspirational But Also Realistic

When setting the company goal, you want to be aspirational but also realistic. I have seen it go both ways. Typically in larger companies, no one wants to be seen as not hitting their goals, so they sandbag the results. By setting goals that are easily achievable, a team or individual can avoid the risk of looking bad in front of their bosses or peers. 

Now in smaller businesses, we often see the disease of optimism come out when the team meets to set their goals. The entrepreneur tends to push for a challenging goal. Pushing for a challenging goal can be very effective but the key for the founder is to get the buy-in from all of the staff, and if there is too much pushback, be willing to pull back on your goals a bit. With larger companies, the opposite may be true where leaders should push their team to set more challenging goals. 

In both cases, if your goal is more realistic yet still aspirational, every member of the team will push harder to achieve it

More on Goal SettingWhy Your OKRs Aren’t Working

 

3. Use Tools to Set and Track Employee SMART Goals 

There are a number of goal-setting platforms out there. My favorite is Rhythm Platform developed by Rhythm Systems. In it, individuals can track the status of their own goals by colors: Red, yellow, green and super green. Red if you blew it, yellow if you’re close, and green if you hit your goal. But you can always push for  “super green” if you want to be an all star. They encourage you to track and status your goals weekly and share those with the team. 

Having individual goals set and tracked each week keeps everyone on track and allows the leaders to step in when that status drops from green to yellow. Leaders can find ways to help employees achieve their goals, but they can’t do that if they don’t know how they are tracking. 

Whether starting your business or doing your annual strategic planning, it's about selling your vision with authenticity, acknowledging the risks and setting targets that include your team’s input. In 2024, as entrepreneurs or leaders, your task is to champion your vision into reality — just tread cautiously, be honest with yourself as to what is possible and listen to the team.

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