Is your manager giving you unrealistic goals? Here’s how to respond

Shooting high in the workplace is, of course, always important but sometimes the goals and targets that your manager thinks are appropriate may be simply out of reach given your tools and bandwidth.

If you’re certain that the goals your manager has set up for you are completely unrealistic, speaking up before your next performance review will save you the stress and potential disappointment that could come from missing your target.

Below, we spoke to a handful of career coaches and c-level executives to get their insights on exactly how to approach your boss giving you unrealistic goals in a way that is both respectful and shows that you’re willing to put in the work.

From pointing out logistical issues to asking to share the goal at hand with your team members, here’s exactly how to deal with a manager that may be giving you unrealistic goals.

Point out any logistical challenges they may be missing

Your first step should be to talk to the boss, explain why the goal is unrealistic, and present an alternate course of action.

“The higher someone gets on the leadership ladder, the less experience they typically have with day-to-day operations,” explains Jon Hill, Chairman and CEO at The Energists. “Because of that, it’s possible they simply don’t realize the logistical or process challenge that makes their goal impossible.”

If you bring these facts to their attention, they’ll likely be grateful that you were proactive, considering the alternative would have been either falling short of the goal or creating a stressful work environment—not outcomes any boss is trying to achieve. 

“Another possibility is that the boss realizes the goal is unrealistic but is facing pressure from higher leadership or clients to meet it anyway. Talking to them can still help in this situation, especially if you give them evidence they can take to the client/exec to show why the goal can’t be met,” Hill adds.

Be completely honest and transparent about your concerns

“When your boss is giving unrealistic goals, it is best to schedule time on their calendar to hold a candid and transparent conversation,” explains Jessica Williams, Founder and CEO at Jessica M. Williams Career Consulting. “Bring your receipts, notes, and wit because when you call out the boss you have to back up your thought process with cold hard facts.”

It’s about being open, honest, and transparent to the reality of the goals set. No professional wants to work for goals that clearly cannot be attained, hold the boss equally as accountable as they would hold their employees. 

Ask to share the task or target at hand with your team

Another strategy is to suggest having the task be delegated to a team.

According to Michael Hamelburger, CEO of The Bottom Line Group, when it is unrealistic for an individual to achieve the goal, it’s better to train a team to be independent and highly capable of performing even complex tasks so they can develop the confidence to get the business running seamlessly even if they’re only a few people around.

“Train and nurture their skills and soon, the employee can handle the task by himself,” Hamelburger adds.

Don’t take it personally

“Being a boss, we are focused on delivering the demands of the people to avoid any kind of bad scenarios,” explains Chris Muktar, Founder of WikiJob.

“Being given an unrealistic goal is a way to let your boss know what kind of creativity you have and what skills you possess to provide a solution or output.”

Choose to take on the challenge

Given an unrealistic goal is not considered as punishment but a form of trust that your skill set is the right one for the job.

“Be calm and stay committed to delivering the demand of your boss. With a great effort and output you will be surely appreciated,” adds Muktar.