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The Rules of Management: Set Realistic Targets—No, Really Realistic

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Richard Templar explains why it's important to set realistic targets for your team.
This chapter is from the book

Set Realistic Targets—No, Really Realistic

When I was doing the research for this book, someone said that setting realistic targets was unrealistic and that all targets should be "stretching" ones because that would impress the board. Now, can you see the problem here? Yep, we're not talking here about motivating a team, getting a job done, and creating an atmosphere of success and creativity. No, we're talking about impressing the board. Now on paper that might be a smart thing to do if your board is made up of monkeys, but I bet it isn't. I bet it's made up of pretty shrewd folks who would see through a maneuver like that in a nanosecond.

When I say realistic, I don't say lower or easy-to-achieve targets. I say realistic. That might mean taxing. It might mean a struggle. It might mean your team has to redouble its efforts, work harder, longer, and brighter. But Rule 3 says realistic and that means achievable, within your grasp. And yes, you might have to stretch a bit.

Realistic means you know what your team is capable of and what is expected of it by your bosses. Somehow you will have to marry the two to keep both sides happy. You can't pressure your team out of existence, nor can you let your bosses think you're slacking.

If your bosses insist on setting targets that aren't realistic, you must feed that back to them. Don't argue or procrastinate; feed it back to them. Ask how they think the targets could be achievable. Say they are unrealistic. Be very well prepared; make your case that the targets are unrealistic, and ask again how they think they could be achieved. Suggest a realistic target of your own, well supported by facts and figures. Keep feeding the problem back to your bosses and asking for clarification. Sooner or later they must set a more realistic target or order you to achieve the impossible. Either way, you are absolved of the problem. If they set realistic targets, then all you need to do is meet them. (You know you can do this.) If they order you to fulfil unrealistic ones, you are also in the clear; when you fail to achieve the unachievable, you can explain that at the time you did register your protest and bring your case back to them.

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