Starting out, it was just you, four walls, and maybe a cash register. Strategic goals were the least of your concerns. On opening day, you were already in the hole a few thousand, maybe a lot more. Money needed to pour in, quickly, or you would be belly up in a matter of a few months.
But that didn’t happen. Somehow, you made it through and started seeing a return on your investment. You even started hiring a few employees and your business grew, and it grew fast.
Things got chaotic, and being the savvy manager that you are, you quickly realized that you needed to pull on the reins before your business horses ran wild. So you decided to take a step back, have an in-depth look at your business, and analyze what needs to happen for your business to continue to grow successfully and effectively.
Feeling pretty good about the new goals you set, you waited for the results to roll in, but that didn’t happen. Your goals are continuously out of reach, and no matter how hard you try, you’re just not meeting them.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Why you’re not meeting your strategic business goals:
Let’s look at common reasons businesses miss their strategic goals, and what you can do differently in your business.
1. You’re setting unrealistic goals
In August of 2016, the New York Times reported that General Electric had high hopes for its new software initiative, Predix. It reported that G.E. “hopes to attract $100 million in orders this year, on its way to $4 billion revenue by 2020. By then, the company forecasts that its total digital business—more than 90 percent of IT software—may reach as much as $15 billion, up from $6 billion now.”
While that may be realistic for General Electric—a 124-year-old company with high paying, long term customers and billions of dollars to invest in top talent—many businesses will have a hard time meeting such ambitious goals.
Yet some business owners still set goals that there’s no way they can achieve. According to Ted Harro, founder of Noonday Ventures, setting unrealistically high goals creates a business culture where failure becomes acceptable and expected, and a team that’s just going through the motions.
Yes, you want to challenge your employees with ambitious goals that stretch their skills, but in order for them to achieve these goals, they must be grounded in reality.
Therefore, make sure it’s reasonable to achieve your goals in the timeframe you set, with the budget and tools you have, with the amount of employees and other responsibilities and skills you all have, and with time to catch up—because you know some things will take longer than expected, and others will be added to the schedule unexpectedly.
If it sounds complicated, start with this two-step goal setting process to achieve more with less from successful entrepreneur Marie Forleo:
2. Your goals aren’t based on customer data
When Earvin “Magic” Johnson, retired NBA basketball player and a current successful entrepreneur, partnered with Starbucks, his branches were more successful than the original branches, because he had a deep understanding of the diverse culture he was targeting.
As he shared in his View from the Top talk at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, he changed the menu and the atmosphere at his branches to adapt to the needs of this specific culture. He over-delivered—and it paid off.
You can watch his entire talk here:
Remember, customers are the heart of every business. They’re the reason you get to keep your doors open and fulfill your professional mission in life. So when you set goals for your business, you have to do it based on what they tell you—be it with their words or with their actions.
Before setting goals, analyze anything you can about your customers—how they find you, which products they buy most, what type of clients buy most, or which provide second-hand revenue in terms of referrals. Analyze what service and product issues they bring up, what stops them from making the most out of your product, and what makes their day.
Then, set goals to do more of what works, and to improve the most complained about areas of your business.
3. You don’t communicate your goals with your team
According to the Harvard Business Review, fewer than one-third of senior executives’ direct reports clearly detail the connections between corporate priorities, share prices, and the actions of frontline supervisors and team leaders.
It’s not uncommon for different departments to receive mixed messages, or simply be unaware of other teams’ goals and how they impact their own work. HBR continues to state that “when asked to identify the single greatest challenge to executing their company’s strategy, 30 percent cite failure to coordinate across units.”
“There’s a hunger for communication amongst the staff in any organization…No leader can ever communicate too much,” Ian Watt, former secretary of the department of the prime minister cabinet of Australia, told Skillsoft. Watch what he said here:
If you want your company to succeed, you need to engage your employees. In fact, employees that are engaged with their company (meaning that they understand what their company stands for and feel connected and represented by its set of values) are more productive, profitable, safer, stay for longer, and produce higher customer satisfaction.
4. Your employees aren’t at the level you need them to be
A surefire way not to reach your goals is to hire people who don’t have the skills you need them to have to help you meet your business goals.
To identify whether this is the situation in your business, Administrate recommends listing the skills and knowledge every position in your business requires, then sitting down with managers and analyzing how current employees meet these expectations. Talking to customers is also crucial to gathering feedback on customer-facing employees, as is asking all employees to fill out anonymous surveys about their co-workers, and creating employee evaluations.
Note that some of the skill gaps might result from too little training. Average training duration for new hires can be as little as a few hours—and that includes training given by vendors on new equipment. If you want your employees to have more skills, you’ve got to invest in their training.
Here’s how to ensure that the training will return your investment:
5. Your goal-reaching budget isn’t sufficient
As you understand by now, you’ve got to invest money in your business in order to make more money.
Depending on your specific strategic goals, Peter Cohan recommends you invest money in bringing in new customers. Among other things, this means expanding your marketing, advertising, and sales efforts—again, based on customer data.
Cohan also recommends you prepare better for industry threats. He recommends that you pay more competitive salaries when appropriate, and develop a company culture that makes employees feel valuable.
But as American Express points out, you’ve got to be clear about your goals for financial investments in your business, do everything you can to become more efficient, increase savings, and make every dollar you spend count.
Watch American Express’ video about it here:
6. You’ve got a weak link in the chain
“You’re only as strong as your weakest link.” This common idiom can apply to all walks of life—including your business.
The weak link in your business could be an under-performing employee, a product that’s not selling well, a lack of a marketing or sales plan, poor financial management, or setting unrealistic goals.
Either way, for your business to thrive, find your weakest link and make it a top priority to fix it this year.
You can reach your business goals this year
This year, set realistic goals and make sure they’re based on customer data. Train your employees, take care of weak links, and put in the budget you need to take your company to the next level.
It might not be an easy journey this year, but it’ll be worth the feeling of meeting your goals and knowing that, finally, you have a process you can count on to deliver results next year, too.