Using Targets to Set Your Success Trajectory

by Stacey Barr |

Some people talk about stretch targets. Or BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals). They represent a very large and significant improvement in performance. Pretend, for example, you were measuring On Time Delivery, the percentage of times you delivered your product or service to your customers on or before the agreed time, each month. And let’s say that currently your On Time Delivery averaged around 45%. A stretch target would be to average around 95%.

Usually stretch targets scare the living daylights out of people. They have no idea how or if it can be achieved and they don’t want the pressure of failing to meet the stretch target. Occassionally stretch targets can be motivating and inspiring, but rarely without careful leadership, a strong improvement culture or a damn good reason!

The target series follows the trajectory from now to the ultimate place you want performance to be. Credit: Ket4up

Many people prefer to talk about chievable targets. They represent a very doable, but small, improvement in performance. An achievable target for your On Time Delivey measure might be 50%. People believe in achievable targets. They usually have a pretty good idea of what it would take to reach them, and don’t have any qualms about giving it a go. It’s inside their comfort zone.

So which type of target should you have? Or can you have your cake and eat it too?

Clearly, the size of your target depends on the size of your organisation’s belief in their ability to improve things, to make change happen, to decide on what to fix and execute that decision. But you don’t have to have just one target.

For any performance measure, you can lay out a path into the future using a series of targets paving the way to the level of success you want. For our On Time Delivery example, it might work like this:

current level: 45%
6 month target: 50%
12 month target: 60%
18 month target: 80%
24 month target: 95%

The target series follows the trajectory from now to the ultimate place you want performance to be, by starting out small and building momentum that will make each successive target easier to achieve.

You’ve heard that quote from Sir Isaac Newton, “If I have seen farther than others it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants”, haven’t you? Well the idea with target trajectories is the same. You will see the way to the next target from the vantage point you achieve through reaching the previous target.


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  1. Ed Racis says:

    Let me add one critical element to your advice regarding stretch goals – the customer. The time dimension ought to be dependent on how serious your customers view your current performance. They may not be willing to give you 24 months to improve. The focus needs to be on the negative consequences of a 45% on time delivery and how long you can tolerate them.

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