What to Do When You Miss Your Business Goals
If you own a small business, you probably have big dreams and ambitions. Without those aspirations, you would never have wanted to run your own business in the first place.
But sometimes, despite your hard work, you simply can’t reach your business goals. Realizing that fact can be a sobering experience for many small business owners.
While it can be difficult to miss your goals, it’s also an opportunity to reflect, readjust your goals, and ultimately build a better business.
“Seventy percent of all successful new businesses end up with a strategy different from the one initially pursued. These missed goals are part of the process,” says Whitney Johnson, author of “Disrupt Yourself: Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work.” “If you will allow yourself to try something, make a mistake, learn, try something again, you will iterate your way to a successful business.”
Consider these three key steps to understanding what happened and coming back stronger.
1. Ask Whether You Set Attainable Goals
If you’ve been too ambitious in setting your goals, you’re not alone. Even big business leaders can be prone to setting goals that are too aggressive.
In a study reported in the Harvard Business Review, Michael E. Raynor and Derek Pankratz questioned 301 big business executives. They asked how confident the executives were about meeting their revenue goals. The authors also made their own calculations about how likely the executives were to achieve those goals.
The results? According to the study’s authors, executives who were very confident about meeting their goals were no more likely to have set realistic goals. While it’s good to have confidence, the study suggests it’s not a guarantee your goals are actually achievable.
It’s possible for goals to be impractical, or not achievable within the time frame you’ve set. Sometimes, your goals can be too vague and it’s not even clear how you would measure success.
In some cases, you may not be concentrating your efforts in the right place. “One way you’ll know that you haven’t yet quite found the right business goals is you find yourself getting frustrated a lot,” says Johnson. “It may be that you haven’t yet figured out the right problem to solve or it may be that you aren’t playing to your strengths.”
If you don’t meet your business goals, one question to ask may be, could you have actually achieved them? Were they realistic, given what you know now? If not, it may not be fair to judge yourself harshly for not meeting unattainable expectations.
2. Understand Why You Didn’t Meet Your Goals
If you think you could have achieved your goals but didn’t, you may want to to think about why. The answer may be:
- No strategy. If you demand big things of yourself, you need a strategy to help you get there — and working harder and harder isn’t a strategy. A good strategy generally identifies a clear understanding of the key challenge your business faces, and sets out a coordinated plan to address it, according to UCLA management professor Richard Rumelt.
- Loss of focus. If you get caught up in the day-to-day running of your business and lose touch with the bigger picture, you may not have been able to give your bigger goals enough of your time.
- Employees aren’t motivated. Even if you’re laser-focused on your goals, you might need your employees’ help to achieve them. If you haven’t taken the time to motivate your employees to achieve your business goals, you may not get the help and support you need.
- Setting too many goals. Even if individual goals are achievable, you may not be able to achieve them all at the same time. As management consultant Ron Ashkenas points out in Forbes, if you set a lot of goals, you may end up choosing to achieve the easiest or most enjoyable, not the most important.
- External circumstances. Events beyond your control shouldn’t be your first excuse for not achieving your goals, but sometimes things really are out of your control. Even then, however, there may be valuable lessons to learn from unforeseen events.
Be honest about the reasons you didn’t achieve your goals. Don’t just assign blame. Johnson advises you to ask yourself, “What did I learn that I couldn’t have known if I had achieved this goal?” Answering that question may help you improve your business.
3. Set Smarter Goals, and Try Again!
If you miss out on achieving your goals, you shouldn’t give up on the goal-setting process altogether. Goals are a great way of pushing yourself to do better and maintaining your focus on what’s important.
A great framework for setting goals is the SMART formula, according to career expert Vicki Salemi. SMART goals are:
- Specific: Your goals should state what and how you will achieve them.
- Measurable: Give a clear definition of success, preferably using numbers, so you know when your goal has been achieved.
- Attainable: A goal should push you to put in extra effort, but should be something you can realistically accomplish.
- Relevant: If the goal is achieved, it will make a significant difference to your business.
- Timely: A deadline or end date makes your goals concrete and gives you focus.
You can get some helpful resources about setting SMART goals from the University of New Hampshire.
One last thought — stay motivated! When you do miss your goals, remind yourself why you started your business in the first place, what excites you about being your own boss, and what you still hope to achieve.
So if you didn’t meet your business goals, don’t despair. Look closely at your goals and see whether they were attainable in the first place. Be honest with yourself about why you didn’t achieve them, and learn lessons. Finally, set newer, SMART-er goals, and get back to business!