personal growth is critical to company success
OKRs

How Can We Tell the Difference Between a Challenging Goal and an Unrealistic One?

November 2, 2021
5 minute
Emily Vo

Emily Vo

Growth Hacker

Setting objectives is crucial to professional and personal development. Without an objective, you won’t realize your full potential. But it is important to be careful in the OKRs setting. What we want are challenging goals and not unrealistic ones.

Defining challenging and unrealistic goals

A challenging goal is something that stretches your boundaries and makes you achieve what you previously thought was impossible. By setting such a goal, you’re testing your limits and enhancing your capabilities. A challenging goal will make you reassess your thoughts and processes and encourage you to optimize your actions.  

What should be understood here is that just because they’re challenging doesn’t mean they’re unattainable. What it means is that such a goal would force you to question your methods and develop new frameworks. It will motivate you to get out of your comfort zone because regular input won’t create such an extraordinary output.

Learning a new skill outside your comfort zone is a challenging goal. So too is expanding your lead generation by 40 percent in a quarter or reducing customer response time by half in two quarters is difficult but doable. Incrementally losing weight over a period is also challenging but attainable.  

Unrealistic goals, on the other hand, are usually not practical. While they may sound exciting, they would hardly lead to any visible results. Those who pursue such unrealistic goals disregard the basic principles of OKRs goal setting because the objectives are not based on an individual or team’s potential or the resources available to them.  

These goals are also usually costlier and more time-consuming. Since they have extraordinary results tied to them, you may have to commit more resources over a longer period. In most cases, despite the fact that there are no demonstrable benefits, the system will continue to support these unrealistic goals because of the sunk costs.  

Trying to learn a new language in a couple of months is an unrealistic goal. Planning to run a marathon with no previous experience in a few weeks is also anything but realistic. Increasing customer acquisition by 100 percent in a month is another example of an unrealistic goal.  

How to distinguish between challenging and unrealistic goals?

So, how can you distinguish between challenging and unrealistic goals during the OKRs setting? The first thing you should understand is whether it’s a logical extension of current capabilities. This doesn’t mean it should be an easier stretch of our resources but only that it should be inherently possible for the individuals to achieve it.  

If it doesn’t seem logical for the individuals and the system, what you have is an unrealistic goal. Your customer retention rate can be improved by 30 percent because you already may have the resources to do so. That makes it a challenging goal. But becoming the category leader in a few quarters by launching a product would be unrealistic if you don’t have the capabilities for it.

Secondly, there should be reference points within the system. Someone else should have either achieved something similar or come close to it. This will be crucial in your OKRs management as challenging goals will seem achievable when you can envision them based on someone’s experience.  

This is what makes it a challenging but attainable goal. If you can’t think of anyone else who would have achieved it, then it’s certainly not realistic. This doesn’t mean that you should only set goals that have been achieved before. What it means is that you may have to make your goals more realistic in order to achieve them.

How to set challenging but achievable goals?

In OKRs goal setting, it’s important to develop a process for setting challenging but achievable goals. You can follow these best practices to make your goals bigger but still within your grasp.

Know why you’re doing it:

Whether it’s personal or professional development, you should have a reason for doing it. Wherever possible, align it to an objective larger than yourself. Imagine yourself having achieved it and now imagine others being inspired by it.  

Identify your opportunities and threats:

A key part of OKRs management is being aware of what can enable you and what can stand in your way. Be extremely realistic when you do it. Visualize yourself working on your goal and see where the opportunities and threats can come from. This will make you better prepared.

Understand your strengths and weaknesses:

For personal development to be meaningful and effective, you should know what you’re good at and where you need help.

Reorient your processes:

Sometimes you may have to redesign the process to achieve a goal. Think outside the box for your learning method and get hand-on experience. Some of us learn better by doing. For example, if you want to learn Finnish in a year, instead of merely relying on an app, you can spend some time with someone who speaks Finnish.

Read about others:

Learn how others would have accomplished such goals. This will show you the easiest path to overcoming your obstacles. It will also motivate you when the going gets tough. Don’t be discouraged by someone’s failures but learn from their mistakes.  

Regularly measure your performance:

Performance management is about regularly analyzing your results. You need to dispassionately assess where you stand and whether you’re meeting your goals in your timeframe. This will also help divide your challenging goal into achievable units. Getting four online certifications in a year sounds difficult. Studying for half an hour every day doesn’t.

The bottom line

Setting challenging but attainable goals can allow one to step outside of their comfort zone and discover hidden abilities. It also allows people to learn and develop the skill sets required to achieve the objective. If you’re interested in learning more about how Talbit can help you manage your OKRs, book a demo with one of our product experts.

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