Unrealistic Objectives

August 2, 2017

Dear Strategy:

“How do you remove a strong personality from the metrics of a strategic objective?”

In Episode 7, which you can find here, we talked briefly about managers who set unrealistic goals and then expect their organizations to magically “make those goals happen” without any support to speak of from the requestor. Clearly, I’m not a big fan of that approach. But, more to the context of this episode, this is exactly the type of manager who will translate into the “strong personality” referenced in this question. So even though I’m not a fan of this particular personality, we’ll still need a way of dealing with people like this rather than just wishing they didn’t exist. So then, what exactly is a person to do?

Well, for every difficult manager, there’s about a hundred product managers who play victim to what they perceive to be unreasonable demands. And then there’s that one who rises up from the crowd and actually talks with his or her manager to try to understand where the unreasonable demand is coming from. And that’s the person we want to focus in on to help answer this question.

The truth is, when you take the time to actually talk with your managers, no matter how unreasonable their demands may at first appear, you will undoubtedly gain some level of insight as to what’s actually going on in their heads. And although I’m not going to claim that its always pleasant in there, it’s a heck of a lot better than assuming the worst of them.

Now, notice how I said talk with your managers, and not at them. Because if they set unreasonable goals, and you just tell them what can’t be done, I can pretty much guarantee that you’re going to be worse off than when you started. But if you approach the situation with true curiosity, and then back up whatever position you want to take with real facts and data, you’ll be much more likely to meet your manager somewhere in the middle. Or you might even find that your manager was instinctively right. The point is, practice understanding, collaboration, and real fact finding. And all of that will usually result in a strategy that everyone can live with.

Now, just to show you that I’m not being overly lopsided in my response, I also have to say that if you’re a manager in charge of setting top-down objectives, please, please, please understand that there’s a difference between strategic objectives and stretch targets. Strategic objectives are achievable and measurable goals that can be backed up with a realistic plan. Stretch targets, on the other hand, are aspirations you want to strive for, but may not have a realistic plan to achieve. There’s nothing wrong with setting stretch targets. But when you require those targets, particularly without any real strategy to back them up, you can expect more than a few evil glances coming your way in the lunch room. And, trust me, no manager wants that – especially when it’s deserved.


Listen to the podcast episode
Dear Strategy: Episode 009




Bob Caporale is the author of Creative Strategy Generation and the host of the Dear Strategy podcast. You can learn more about his work by visiting bobcaporale.com.

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