All of us plan for success in our businesses. That IS the goal after all. To be successful. But how exactly do you determine IF you have succeeded? Regardless if you are a start up or an established business, you need to establish, right up front, during your business planning process, what success will look like, and how you will measure it.

I was bemused, recently, over the various ways we measure success in our society.

We were watching a movie, Martian Child, with John Cusack and Bobby Coleman. Cusak’s character was trying to teach his adopted son to hit a baseball. As he explained “If you hit 3 out of 10 you’re a star. If you do just a little better, you’re a superstar!” That theme recurs in the film.

It was heartening in the film’s context. If we apply it to our daily lives, the little bit of wisdom can be freeing and encouraging. It gives us lots of room to try, to experiment, (and yes, to fail and try again), to learn, and to grow. We don’t have to be perfect the first time, or every time. 3 out of 10 and you can be a star. Heady stuff.

But that idea contrasts with so much else we hear.

“Nobody wants to be a 0, but everybody wants to be a 1, and there’s so little room in between.”
– Laurie Anderson, songwriter/singer.

In school if you were to get only 3 of 10, you’d not only get an F, but never get into college. Today you need to get all those advanced placement credits to get a 5.0 on a 4.0 grading scale. (And what kind of math does that teach, eh?)

And of course, if you’re a figure skating or ice dancing Olympian, you strive to be a 10. (And who can remember that very forgettable movie by the same number?)

We spend our lives searching for and nurturing love….unless you play tennis, in which case “love” is the dreaded lowest score.

And this relates to business how? By being realistic in your measure for success. Write your business plan, set your goals, establish your timelines and milestones.

Then review how you’ve done, run a plan vs. actual analysis. And adjust your plan as necessary, making decisions using real data.

If you converted 100% of your marketing leads into sales you’d be doing fantastically well. If you set your goal and measure of success as converting 100% of your leads, however, you’ll be both deluding yourself, and be very, very disappointed.

Be honest and set realistic goals for yourself. If you converted 3 out of 10 marketing leads you would be a star, and quite likely have a very successful business.

Tim BerryTim Berry

Tim Berry is the founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software and Follow him on Twitter @Timberry.