Setting Audacious Goals for 2017

Goals, like promises, are easy to make. The difficult part is the work necessary to achieve the goal. One of my biggest past mistakes was setting a lofty goal and then making excuses to rationalize not reaching it. It is tempting to defend a lack of success with obstacles.

For example:

  • The economy or the election impacted buying cycles

  • Our prices were too high or competition was desperate

  • Co-workers or partners didn’t follow through

  • Someone got sick, the network was down, or customers went out of business

The only certainty of 2017 is that we will have access to an unlimited number of excuses. The points above will affect our business plan, along with hundreds of unforeseen hurdles. In the past, even though I was aware of potential obstacles in advance, I chose to use them as valid explanations later if a goal wasn’t achieved.

Many of my friends have participated in popular endurance obstacle courses: Spartan Race, Tough Mudder, Warrior Dash, etc. Imagine if I asked one of them, “Did you meet your goal time for the course?” It would be strange if they replied, “I would have met my goal if it weren’t for all of the obstacles!” It’s time to decide that next year will have no room for excuses.

When I encountered project complications in the past, I attempted to decrease the potential of failure by lowering the original goal. Our management meetings sounded something like, “Gosh, when we set that goal, we never could have predicted Bob would resign, our top competitor would grow more aggressive, and our best customer would go out of business. Let’s re-align our goals to this new reality.” Can you imagine if a professional football team operated with the same strategy? Visualize an NFL coach telling the media, “Our goal last season was to win and we lost by three touchdowns. Our goal this year is to lose by less than 21.” It took me too long to realize how absurd that line of thinking was for us. I was inadvertently sending the message to my team that our goals don’t matter and I didn’t believe we could achieve them.

Another mistake I made was setting an easily obtainable goal based on past performance. “We grew 20% last year, so let’s set a goal of 20% growth again!” Exceptional people and extraordinary companies are set apart by the unwavering pursuit of lofty goals. To be among the best, you must reach further than your competition.

A few years ago, the term “Big Hairy Audacious Goal” (BHAG) became popular. Jim Collins advises in his book, Built to Last, that companies around the world should begin setting BHAGs. Unfortunately, every BHAG case I’ve witnessed sets an audacious goal along with a safe backup goal. Following our football comparison from earlier, it would be incredibly unmotivating for a football coach to say, “Our BHAG is to go to the Super Bowl, but realistically, I hope we go .500 and I don’t get fired.” To truly excel we need to set brave goals with no other set of “safe realistic goals.” This is the toughest test of all.

Are you setting BHAGs for your team? What have you learned about goal setting for 2017? Share your biggest “ah-ha” moment or tips for reaching audacious goals in the comments below.