What is a high-achievement goal? Studies show that high achievers set goals that they feel they have a 70 to 80 percent chance of accomplishing.
Some leaders feel you have to set goals that are almost unachievable just to keep people motivated and pushing harder. They would scoff at the idea of a goal that you had a 75 percent chance of accomplishing. However, research and my observation show that people will perform consistently the best and at a high level of accomplishment when the chances of success fall in that narrow window of 50 to 75 percent probability. If the goal has a greater than 75 percent chance of completion, high achievers (and most people) feel the goal is too easy. But high achievers want the publicly stated goal to be around that 75 percent range. Then, in their own minds, they will shoot for a much higher goal—one that they feel they may have only a fifty-fifty chance of accomplishing. They like this more-challenging goal because they feel it is their personal effort that will make the difference between the stated goal and this internal higher target.
But all studies show that once the stated goal has less than a fifty-fifty chance of success, it is no longer a motivating target. The chances of success are too slim.
I observed a fascinating example of this phenomenon when the leadership team for a client discussed the goal that had been publicly set by the CEO for them to accomplish over the next five years. We could tell by the team’s discussion that they felt this goal was at or near the fifty-fifty odds range.
While the goal seemed very challenging, there was a sense in the group that it might be attainable and the results would be exciting. But when one of the team members present indicated that the goal had recently been increased to accomplish about 30 percent more over the same five years, everyone in the room rolled their eyes, threw down their pens or pencils, and hung or shook their heads. The spirit went out of them. They obviously felt the new goal had less than a fifty-fifty chance of being achieved, and hope plummeted.
The moral of the story for leaders: Goal setting is very critical to future success, and a great deal of thought and feedback should be collected before announcing high-level goals.
These goals may be broad goals stated to the public or to Wall Street. Or they may simply be individual goals that are set during annual review periods.