Setting Impossible Goals

“It just can’t be done!”

I was getting exasperated. My boss and the head of sales were leaning on me to deliver a two week product in an hour.

Not just once – but from now on.

Every single time.

They were convinced that the reason we weren’t selling more was because customers were balking at the thought of waiting up to two weeks to be able to use the product. (They were right).

My team was small, but we were pretty good at what we were doing. There might have been some way to reduce the time a bit, but cutting it down by such an incredible margin just seemed flat out impossible.

My boss was one of those guys who would regularly challenge me to improve things – honestly I’m sure I’ve learnt more from him than almost any other person. But this was a whole other level. But the challenge was there, and although I was certain we’d never hit 1 hour, we should be able to reduce the time to deliver a bit if we pushed ourselves. I made some noise that sounded like agreement, and sat down to look at what we could change.

But it’s what happened next that changed the way I thought about business forever.

My boss came back into the room and started asking me questions:

  • “What if we knew exactly what the customer needed before it was ordered – could we do it then?”
  • “What if we stored our stock on site rather than at our office?”
  • “How much time could we save if we did all of our testing before the sale?”

These were our high end products, customers were spending big to get them – and our focus had always been on getting everything perfect, customized exactly how the customer wanted it.

But my boss was onto something here. We looked through sales data – and we could easily break the product into 3 categories, similar enough that we’d be able to treat them the same. Customers who wanted something truly custom would be more willing to accept a delay, or would compromise on their wish list to get it early if that was more important.

We found that there was room available for us that we could use for our prepared stock – we were already paying for the space anyway.

We were already half way there – with only a few tweaks we could promise delivery within two days.

I wrote out the process, and we identified some more bottlenecks. Some things could be done earlier, some could be skipped entirely. A lot of manual tasks could be automated, and we could involve different staff in the process if we had clear instructions prepared. I ran a test case, and proved that it was actually possible – we COULD deliver the product in an hour.

It took a lot of work, but if we hadn’t been set an impossible target, we would never have pursued it. We probably only ever actually hit the one hour target a few times for real customers, but we consistently delivered on same the day it was paid for from then on. Being able to offer a same day service changed everything – we went from two a week to over 20 a month. And seeing how we could achieve the impossible by asking good questions is what has set me on the path I’m on now. I’m incredibly grateful to my Boss for taking the time to not just set an impossible challenge for me, but to believe in me enough to work with me through it until we achieved the goal.

I honestly believe that most businesses are underperforming – especially the busiest ones. It takes a lot of work to change habits and processes – but the results are incredible when you do. Grant Cardone suggests that we limit ourselves when we set goals and targets – and that to truly achieve our potential we need to follow the “10x Rule“. I highly recommend his book for motivation and strategy. You can achieve more than you believe, but you’ve got to believe enough to try.

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