The word deadline can cause stress and panic. But when a business masters the time-based target, teams unleash their potential to improve productivity and performance.
Many entrepreneurs know that they must create SMART goals: those that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. Details must be clearly defined and attainable so that a goal is anything but vague. Otherwise, teams won’t be aligned and desired outcomes simply won’t be realized.
Making sure that goals are measurable and timely means that your team is setting a realistic deadline for each task or milestone, as well as the project as a whole. Even though deadlines can sometimes feel overwhelming, they actually free your mind and hone your focus to hit your targets. Here’s how.
Without deadlines, projects can feel more overwhelming, impacting motivation. If there’s no end date, how much should be completed each day? What’s driving workers toward staying on task instead of procrastinating? A deadline can also be viewed as a challenge for a team member, which can inspire creativity and innovation.
Clearly defined deadlines and milestones help you better plan out what needs to be done and when. Otherwise, there will be too much freedom. It also helps to include deadlines for small steps within the timeline to keep momentum along the way.
Milestones help you and the team monitor progress, which is especially crucial for long-term projects or initiatives. For example, hold a weekly check-in meeting to track and discuss where the project is currently and what’s left to be done. Just like checklists help us manage our thoughts and to-dos each day, milestones keep us focused on where we are and where we need to go.
Even top talent needs feedback and encouragement, and regular check-ins will provide that. These meetings also give the team deadlines to work toward throughout the week—they’ll want to be able to show something they’ve accomplished.
Hold the team accountable
Deadlines enable you to hold individuals accountable. When targets aren’t being met, it’s crucial to find out why and address the problem. If there are no end dates to projects—or milestones within them—it’s challenging even to identify the problem, much less nail down the cause.
With more information about where teams fall short, you can learn where you need to put your attention. You may discover the need to work closely with one particular employee who needs some extra guidance to stay on track.
While actual penalties aren’t always necessary or effective ways to motivate employees, it’s worth noting that you can still acknowledge how something could have gone better when a deadline isn’t met. And, of course, consistently missed deadlines call for a more serious conversation.
Generate better data
When you set measurable goals for your business, you’re giving yourself the ability to collect better data. This information can be used to make better business decisions based on facts and results. Milestones support consistency, which is another requirement for continually meeting goals.
For example, one measurable goal may be to grow your customer base by a certain number every month. Teams can check in to see which months have met this goal and which haven’t. What changed in the marketing strategy that could have made an impact? Was a new campaign launched that increased customer engagement?
Compare this measurable outcome to a vague goal where a company “wants to increase customer loyalty.” Without having clear milestones in the timeline, it’s just not possible to gather data that will lead to the results you want.
Be strategic and prioritize
Keep in mind that it’s not enough to start setting deadlines for each project without assessing what’s realistic for each milestone or goal. You have to be strategic in setting target dates.
Start by prioritizing tasks. When you sit down to create deadlines, you’re forced to think about what has to be done first so that the rest of the project can continue. Focus on only the most essential milestones here—don’t get too detailed in priorities; otherwise, you’ll have too many deadlines in your timeline.
Tracking deadlines for each milestone means that you and the team can celebrate when a task is completed on target. Make sure to acknowledge wins, not just failures. Reward workers for staying on track and working hard to meet a goal. Share positive changes in business data with the team and keep them involved in the continued planning and strategizing process.
The professionals at Provident CPA & Business Advisors work with a range of business owners to improve productivity and sustain long-term growth. We help implement the Entrepreneurial Operating System® (EOS) model, which helps entrepreneurs learn how to build the foundation of a successful business. Get in touch with Provident to learn more.