SMART goals – we have all come across them at some point in our lives. This well-known acronym has been considered a staple guideline in business for decades, helping business owners to break down their goals in a way that makes them easier to achieve.

Conceptualised in the 1980s by American business consultant George T Doran, SMART stands for specific, measured, achievable, realistic and timely. It allows businesspeople to view their goals from every angle prior to implementing a strategy to meet them. The success of SMART goal planning is demonstrated by the fact it has become immersed in almost every training seminar and business strategy session across the country (and the world). But, if SMART goal planning is exceptionally common, why is it that 50 per cent of UK startups fail within the first five years? Is there a fault with the SMART method itself? Or are we simply not using this tool properly?

Today we want to focus on the letter R in SMART – Realistic.

Often we are told that our goals are too over-reaching, and that’s why they’re likely to fail. And sometimes this is true. But high numbers of business owners actually underestimate the realistic potential of their business. In the bestselling book ‘The Four Disciplines of Execution’, by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey & Jim Huling, it says, ‘to achieve goals you’ve never achieved before, you need to do things you’ve never done before’. When you set yourself a ‘realistic’ goal, you might be tempted to stay within your comfort zone. That’s why Accordant Partners always asks private client at the very first meeting, “What is your big fat hairy goal?” Aiming high often drives people to do more and meet goals they never dreamed of getting anywhere near.

A Case In Hand

When Accordant Partners began work with a brand new premium event management company, expectations were vague. But after the initial meeting, a strategy had been implemented that not only incorporated SMART goals, but shifted the expectations of the owners out of their comfort zones and into exciting territory. Within a month, the company booked a highly profitable corporate event with a prestigious international client – a result that positively surprised them. Two months on, marketing outreach analysis was conducted to see how many people had opened the monthly newsletters being sent out. One owner predicted that only a handful of people will have read the emails, saying, “if we can get 200 opens, that’ll be an achievement” – the actual figure was closer to two thousand.

When we are asked to set ourselves goals that are ‘realistic’, it is therefore important to question our perception of reality and influences that might help or hinder the way we view the future of our business. Questions you might like to ask yourself are:

  • Have I failed at starting a business before? If so, is that holding me back from reaching further this time?
  • Am I positioning myself in the market appropriately to reach more profitable goals?
  • Do I suffer from ‘imposter syndrome’ and doubt my own credentials? If so, could a business coach and mentor help?
  • Have I seen other businesses fail in this space and think I need to dumb-down my expectations to make it work? If so, is there a way to understand and learn from the failings of others so that I don’t make the same mistakes?

Goal Setting A Week at a Time

SMART goals are even more likely to be achieved if they’re broken down into smaller chunks. A weekly (or daily) meeting that assesses and adjusts bite-sized goals, as well as holding everyone to account for their responsibilities within this, can be an excellent way to meet big goals quickly. Furthermore, it is imperative that all members of the business have a daily record of sales and related activity which is constantly held up and compared against the vision of the future. Not on target? No problem! The sooner you realise this, the better chance you have of avoiding big pitfalls and adjusting your business model to meet your greatest business ambitions.

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