How to Answer a Query for Not Meeting Your Target at Work

Uh-oh. Ever received an email like this, at work? “I did not receive the reports for quarters 1 and 2. When do you expect they will be completed?”

Or, how about: “Your target for this quarter was to make 400 calls. I only see evidence of 275. Please explain.”

Someone’s in trouble, and it’s you. However, we may be able to save the day. It’s worth a try.

When approached about not meeting your work goal, be honest about the reasons and don’t make excuses. For example: “Due to the many cases of illness, we are unfortunately currently behind.” If the deficit is already foreseeable, proactively address it as early as possible.

The Best Defense Is a Good Offense

This isn’t just sports talk. If you know you aren’t going to hit a target, the best thing to do is to get out in front of the problem. Call or email your supervisor, boss, client, or whomever, and let them know. Here is a sample script:

“Hi, John. I was just looking over my target number for calls for Q1 and I have concerns about making my target. I wanted to bring this issue to your attention so that we can discuss it and see how I can get back on track. I am sorry to have to give you this news, but wanted to get ahead of it so that it doesn’t impact your reporting.”

Why do this? It shows a couple of things. The first is awareness. You know where you are supposed to be. The second is that you are being brave and honest in bringing it up. Unless your boss is a stern taskmaster, he or she will appreciate the heads-up so that they can correct the course.

Please, though, do not wait until the eleventh hour to bring this up. A clock is ticking somewhere, and if you wait until the last minute to confess, it’s likely too late, and you really have become a huge problem.

Finding the courage to bring this up, and doing it, are only part of the solution to this query. Let’s now look at the second part of the solution.

The Legitimate Reason

Using the script above, we can elaborate because you may, in fact, not be a naughty slacker and have a legitimate reason for not meeting your target. That script might go something like this:

“As you are aware, that software upgrade took longer than expected, and our department is a week behind.”


“As you are aware, several employees in our department were out sick that first week of January.”

“That internet outage impacted us in a big way and we had to re-build those records.”

Anyway, you get the drift. Keep in mind, that this has to be something verifiable and legitimate.

You can always hit the high points. Do what you can, i.e., the most important things first.

Then you can report to the query:

“Hello! I am not sure I can hit our sales target, but I have crossed off the major items, i.e. ___. I will keep working to try to accomplish the goal.”

Personal reasons are trickier, and you need to not abuse the excuse. Sometimes, life gets in the way. While you may have very good intentions, stuff happens. When this is the case, you will want to know your supervisor and employer well, because you will need to be asking for their kindness and grace.

A legitimate excuse could be anything from a death in the family, a breakup, depression, divorce, problems with children or parents, physical ailment, etc. If you work for a good employer and have been a good employee, one would hope that they would give you a little patience and understanding.


Not keeping your supervisor up-to-date on your progress, or lack thereof is no longer an option with the technology available.

Care for Some Cheese with that Whine?

Some companies, bosses, or supervisors simply have unreasonable expectations. Odds are, if your supervisor does, their higher-up may, too. If that is the case, you may be at the point where you can say something like this:

“Hi, Jim. I am checking in about those numbers. I am afraid I do not have good news about hitting our sales target this month. As we discussed in the managers’ meeting, we have been short-staffed this month and I mentioned I had concerns about being able to accomplish what you hoped. Unfortunately, I do not, at this point, see us making that goal. I anticipate we will be able to get to about 67%. We will keep working toward 92%, but if you would like to revisit this goal, let’s talk about what can be done.”

This isn’t terribly whiney, but it’s about as whiney as you want to get, for professional development. We would suggest avoiding something like

  • “I told you, in that managers’ meeting, that there was no way that we could accomplish that much, but you just ignored me and wouldn’t listen to me. I told you so.”

That’s unprofessional and rude. Remember to take the high road.

Again, you need to get out ahead of this with this target query failure, and not wait until the last minute.

The Not-So-Legitimate Reasons

We have discussed legitimate reasons for not achieving targets, and how to handle a query. Now things will get a little uncomfortable, because you may indeed be the problem.

Did you, in fact, goof off? Were you playing on your phone, playing video games, taking breaks, etc.? Well, that is more of a challenge to respond to. Here, though, is one suggestion:

“I’m so sorry. I have not been paying close enough attention to my sales target. I am very sorry about this and I will take specific steps to get better about meeting my sales targets in the future.”

Own it. Don’t whine or make excuses. Just try to do better, and say so. And then do better.

How to Respond, Specifically

The query about you not meeting your target may come in a variety of ways: Email, text, or phone.

Think about how you want to respond, because some means may be more effective than others.

For instance, if you have been suffering from a major negative life issue, you may want to request a face-to-face meeting. If that isn’t possible, you might want to request a Zoom or at least make a phone call. E-mails or texts can sometimes not convey appropriate emotions and are easier to ignore or respond to dismissively.

What’s more, some companies have generous EAP (Employee Assistance Programs) that may actually be the best advice for you in dealing with a difficult issue. A smaller employer may also be very understanding. This is another reason why you need to get in front of problems so that they don’t turn into larger ones.

Your job could very well be on the line if you are not hitting targets. Even if your reasons are embarrassing and personal, you may need to speak with your supervisor to explain. You might be surprised by the kindness and support that you receive.

The Big Why: Why Aren’t You Hitting Your Target?

It’s time to get introspective. Why have you not hit your target, triggering a query letter? This is a time for honesty and self-discovery.


Are you bored at work? Do you find it repetitive, or uninteresting? Do you not care about the work at all? There is nothing like boredom to lead you astray from getting work done. Maybe it’s time to look for a job you like better.

This may be a wake-up call to evaluate your skillset, your resume, and perhaps even your bucket list.

Life is short and it goes by fast — too fast to spend your work life doing something that you don’t care about.


There are a lot of workers out there doing the best they can, but who still can’t quite reach the company goals. If this sounds like you, talk to your supervisor. There may be assistance available, in the form of mentoring, counseling, or even online education that will teach you how to manage your time better.

There are also types of software you can use to help you along. Ask a successful co-worker how they manage to get through their to-do list and make their targets. Ask your supervisor. Consult the Internet, which has loads of suggestions.

Get Clear

Are your goals crystal-clear? Sometimes, things are a little gray. If this is the case, ask for specifics, and put those in writing. If the goals are issued during a meeting, take minutes or repeat them back during the meeting. If you are being held to targets, make sure you understand what they are.


This happens a lot. We think a bit of pressure will bring results, or we are too intimidated to start.

Learn from the Experience

Okay, so you blew it. You’re human! We do that. If that was the case, time to evaluate. Why did this happen? What steps can you take to prevent you from reaching your target, and the resulting query, next time?

Alternatively: you tried, and you worked your butt off and did your best. You could say:

“I am sorry. I worked hard to meet this goal, working __ hours and __ overtime. I apologize that I was not able to make the goal this time, and will try harder in the future.”