Do you worry that setting overly ambitious goals for your company could lead to frustration and lower the morale? Stop worrying. Setting seemingly impossible goals is actually good for business, according to Mark Barrocas, president of Euro-Pro, which makes Shark vacuum cleaners and Ninja kitchen appliances.
For Euro-Pro, setting hugely ambitious "breakthrough" goals turned out to be the key to strengthening company culture and maintaining rapid growth, Barrocas says. "We started out six years ago as a small business that could easily pull everyone into a conference room," he says. "Today, Euro-Pro has 800 employees. What helped us really grow our business was the way we think. As you go from 100 people to 800 people, being able to communicate that message and align everyone around it can become a challenge."
And it's not just good for Euro-Pro. Setting unreasonable goals can bring huge benefits to just about any startup. Here are some reasons why:
1. It breaks down rigid thinking.
"Taking on an impossible goal means employees must accept that their view of today's reality isn't fixed, and what they can accomplish isn't fixed either," explains Jon Greenawalt, vice president at Gap International, the executive consulting firm that worked with Barrocas on setting and achieving goals. "Committing to outcomes they don't know how to do forces them to think differently, and thus change and grow. It's getting people to throw their hat over the wall and then think about how they're going to go get it."
In Euro-Pro's case, the executive team set the goal of introducing a new appliance in time to get into some major catalogs for this year's Christmas shopping season. It meant dramatically shortening the usual project-development process, something that required Euro-Pro executives and employees to change their ideas about what was possible.
"This way of thinking catches on," Greenawalt says. "When people see that what they thought was impossible can be done after all, they begin to question other times when they think something can't be done."
2. You get to lead by example.
Setting an impossible goal will likely backfire unless all a company's leadership is on board. But when leaders do commit, it sends a very powerful message to the rest of the organization.
That's why at Euro-Pro, "the top 80 leaders of our organization all take on breakthrough projects," Barrocas says. "They can be pet projects or cross-functional projects." The only requirement is that they dramatically stretch people's boundaries.
3. You can move from a focus on tasks to a focus on outcomes.
This is a very important distinction that most organizations get wrong, Greenawalt says. "In almost any business, people tend to be oriented around tasks and activities," he notes. "Versus at Euro-Pro, where it's really about outcome orientation."
Having people be rooted in the outcomes they're committed to delivering, rather than simply committed to doing their jobs, makes an enormous difference to the company's overall effectiveness, Greenawalt explains. And employees who commit to a goal are committing to an outcome rather than their own process. That means taking on more responsibility.
4. You will bring people together.
Setting an unreasonable goal is a great way to get employees to work together, commit to one another, and help one another move the ball forward. "One of the greatest outcomes has been the organization rallying around each other's breakthrough goals," Barrocas says. "It's gotten people to own the whole of the business together."
5. It will help you get rid of slackers.
"This kind of thinking takes on a life of its own if you get enough critical mass and enough people who really put themselves in the game," Greenawalt says. "When people aren't in the game, it becomes really obvious."
When that happens, he adds, executives who are committed to ambitious goals can address those issues with those who are holding back. In time, he says, "people who are going through the motions stand out, and they work themselves out."
6. You might actually reach your unreasonable goal.
That's what happened for Euro-Pro. "The opportunity was to create a new product in the Ninja blending category," Barrocas says. Ultimately, the company was able to meet its deadline and deliver the product to retail in September, in time to be included in Christmas catalogs and helping the company continue its rapid growth.
The biggest benefit was not just getting a new product to market, but compressing product-introduction timelines in general, he adds. "We started saying, 'Maybe there is a different way of looking at fast-tracked products.'" Though Ninja won't compromise on quality, he says, or customer experience, "maybe it doesn't have to go through this rigid project scheduling." Product testing outside usual business hours and having employees on the ground in China to review prototypes rather than waiting for them to be shipped were some of the new ideas that emerged to help shorten the time between concept and new product, he adds.
"In our business, that's very valuable," he says. "The closer you can get to going to market and still change the product in response to customer feedback, the more that's a product that customers are going to love."
7. Even if you don't, you'll benefit from the attempt.
"You have to swing for the fences if you want to hit home runs," Greenawalt says. "You have to be willing to fail."
Though your company may not reach its impossible-seeming goal, you will probably achieve a lot more than you thought you could. "What we find time and time again is that people may fall short of delivering the outcome they were aiming for," Greenawalt says. "But they get to somewhere way ahead of where they would have been if they'd set a more reasonable goal."