Keeping productivity high is a challenge for all businesses, especially when team members get into a comfortable groove or they do not feel challenged. However, there are plenty of ways to shake up the status quo while continuing to encourage motivation, enthusiasm, and healthy competition. One such way is with stretch goals—a series of intentionally ambitious and demanding objectives that aim to bring out the very best of your team!
Stretch goals are “almost-out-of-reach” goals, and they can drive teams to outperform even what they thought was possible while staying aligned to company objectives and helping individual employees build skills. They also benefit from offering surprising results that help foster innovative thinking and problem-solving.
But how do you set and track stretch goals? And how do you make the most of these sometimes stimulating, sometimes formidable objectives? Here, we will look at what they are, how they can benefit your company, some challenges you’ll need to overcome, and some examples of stretch goals to get you started.
However, we’ll also offer you some insight from those already well-versed in using stretch goals and how they use them to “put the icing on the cake” and push their teams even further. Read on to discover how real entrepreneurs, CEOs, marketing officers, project managers, and PR strategists leverage stretch goals to go above and beyond!
What Is a Stretch Goal?
“Stretch goals….. well, let’s define them. I would consider these to be additions to existing goals that would put the icing on the cake… ” – Natasha Motsi, Project Manager @ Neon.
Stretch goals are targets that are intentionally hard to achieve – it places the objective just out of reach, so you have to stretch for it. It’s worth noting that a stretch goal should not be your primary goal (this should be achievable), but rather an additional objective to push yourself or your team one step (or many) past your initial goal.
Almost anyone can set these goals, and if very clearly outlined as an ideal rather than necessity, they also work extremely well when self-set. Individuals can then achieve the “must-have” goals while pushing themselves with stretch goals to power up their careers. Equally, CEOs or managers can challenge whole teams or departments and maximize productivity across larger companies.
Let’s take a look at an example to try to clarify the stretch goal definition a little more:
- Main goal: Onboard 100 new users by the end of the month
- Stretch goal: Onboard 300 new users by the end of the month
In the example above we can see the main goal, which is achievable and what you should be fulfilling, as well as a stretch goal, which is beyond what would be expected but drives you to reach just a little bit further. While reaching for a stretch goal, even if you fall short, you’re still way ahead of what you would normally settle for. Providing a point to push towards means you’re always striving forwards.
The Benefits of Stretch Goals
“Stretch goals can give stale work a new chance at life. A stretch objective might help your staff feel inspired again if they’ve been lacking the imagination and energy to move a project or your business ahead. Stretch objectives can also be a great motivator for a team in need of some more work. Ambitious goals allow your staff to focus on the work that has the most impact, which is precisely what you want.” – Joanne King, Company Director @Elevate by ICMP
Setting objectives that aren’t really supposed to be reached can seem odd, but stretch goals are about more than the normal box-ticking and offer a host of benefits to the individuals and teams that use them.
First, stretch goals can boost productivity by inspiring team members to push harder and aim higher than they usually would. What’s more, like any goal, a stretch goal gives team members a clear indication of what should be prioritized on a daily basis.
Second, stretch goals can help motivate employees who are looking for a challenge, rather than just hitting targets. Everyone likes to feel like they have achieved something, but some people draw incentive from the feeling of fighting for something that is potentially unattainable.
Third, stretch goals can also boost enthusiasm as they can help foster a fast-paced atmosphere in any work environment. With stretch goals, everyone is striving for a challenge rather than just plodding along, which can inject new energy into projects or KPI targets.
“I always find it helpful to start by reviewing the company’s vision and mission. Once you have a good understanding of those, it’s easier to translate them into tangible high-level goals. For example, if your mission is to provide the highest quality products and services in the industry, your goal might be to achieve a certain level of customer satisfaction or receive specific accolades from industry organizations.” – Gergo Vari, CEO and founder @ Lensa
Stretch goals, can also keep employees in touch with your organization’s mission. They are often intrinsically tied to these larger and less tangible goals. Sometimes, a business’s mission can be too large to realistically enter into individual targets or objectives, but stretch goals offer a space to aim for the big, out-there ideas that align with an organization’s mission.
Furthermore, stretch goals can foster innovation by pushing team members to come up with new, innovative ways to overcome challenges that they would never normally be confronted with. Stretching goals means stretching abilities, and this inevitably leads to growth as individuals and teams continue to push the envelope in search of that elusive win.
Finally, stretch goals have the potential to boost financing. They are very common on crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter, where project leaders are able to pitch for cash in line with a main goal, and then keep building the project out as the funding stretches past the initial proposal.
The benefits of stretch goals are numerous and clear, so by now, you’re probably asking yourself: how do I set them for my team and me? Let’s take a look at how to create stretch goals for employees, teams, and businesses.
How To Create Stretch Goals
Now we’ve looked at why you might want to set stretch goals for your team, let’s dig into how you can do it in a smart, pointed and efficient way. There are some challenges you might face (and we’ll get to those later), but if you stick to these tips, you’ll be well on your way to reaping the rewards of stretch goals for your company.
Analyze If Your Team Is Suited for Stretch Goals
“Before stirring the stretch goal process, you must decide if it suits your team’s capabilities and desires. For example, some people strive to achieve impossible goals, whereas others aim for more modest and realistic endeavors. Consider having a group discussion with your team to find out their preferences and how they like to stay motivated. You can also research how other teams have implemented the stretch goal technique and how it has worked out for them.” – Tristan Harris, Demand Generation Marketing Manager @ Thrive Agency
First, you need to establish whether or not stretch goals are the right choice for your team. While they can be beneficial, every individual and team is different and it is up to you to know whether stretch goals will suit your teams’ ambitions, work and team management style.
Explore your teams’ preferences, try to understand what motivates them as individuals and how this might fit with stretch goals. We mentioned earlier how some people are driven by the challenge of an almost unattainable goal, but on the flip side, many other people aren’t. Some employees may become daunted by big goals, preferring smaller, attainable objectives instead.
Timing Is Everything
“Confidence is built over time by consistently meeting high-performance goals on a regular basis, regardless of the circumstances. It doesn’t come from inspirational lectures, charismatic inspiration, or hopelessness. Confidence is a product of self-assurance. The easiest way to boost our self-confidence is to achieve one of our lofty ambitions. As our momentum grows, we reach previously unattainable heights of performance.” – Gerrid Smith, CEO & Founder @ Criminal Defense
Did your team just fail to hit one of their major targets? Or perhaps lost a good lead by just a fraction? This is not the time to start testing out stretch goals. As a technique designed to drive people beyond their normal aims, stretch goals should only be implemented when there is already good momentum.
As with most things in life, timing is everything, and with stretch goals, this means a period of high productivity and positivity when employees are already feeling confident and capable. In this environment, a stretch goal pushes people on, rather than under.
Set Realistic Yet Challenging Goals
“The key to setting a realistic and achievable stretch goal is to first determine what you want to achieve and then set the goal to be just beyond your current ability. By doing this, you will allow yourself and your team to push yourselves further than you ever thought possible. You don’t want to set the goal so high that it becomes impossible to achieve, but you also don’t want it to be too easy.” – Brian Snedvig, CEO and founder @ Jofibo
Yes, stretch goals should be “out of reach” but not completely impossible. A challenge is only motivating if there is some chance of beating it, which is why a good stretch goal is often only slightly harder than the main goal. If you make it completely impossible, then it could well have the opposite effect and demotivate your team.
To make stretch goals hard but not too hard, you can use past performance or team-member metrics to gauge at what level the goal should be set. To clarify what is a good stretch goal vs what is an impossible stretch goal, let’s look at an example.
For the past 6 months, your team’s sales have been hovering around 100 per month, which is within your company’s expectations. They have dropped under a couple of months, but they are mostly hitting closer to 120 or 130 sales. In this example:
A good stretch goal might be hitting 200 sales a month, which is only a little over 50% more than their previous highs.
An impossible stretch goal would be hitting 500 sales a month, which would mean a 481% increase.
Support Your Team
“Let teams set their own stretch goals. Your employees will have the most accurate understanding of their own abilities and skillsets. Allowing a team to set its own goals often produces the best results since participants are able to adapt stretch goals to their strongest skills.
You can give them some basic parameters to help them connect their goals with the organization’s goals, and then let them build their own plans within those parameters. This can also make them feel more valuable and involved in the company’s mission.” – Gerrid Smith, Chief Marketing Officer @ Joy Organics
An important part of effectively implementing stretch goals is supporting your team members when they are attempting to reach them! Ensure that employees feel confident in their ability to attempt the stretch goal, and more importantly, that they don’t feel any failure if they miss them.
If employees feel pressured by stretch goals, and treat them as “musts,” it can really work against you. Ensure that no team members are putting stretch goals over their own wellbeing, such as working late or worrying about what to do. If you don’t watch this carefully, there will be short-term and long-term damage from burnout.
Align Your Stretch Goals with Organization Goals
“One way to set stretch goals so that it truly benefits the company is by identifying the members who will optimize the use of existing organizational resources. Not every manager or leader is able to set up processes that use every available means to their maximum potential. In setting stretch goals that match these resources, teams will be able to approach tasks from a new perspective, introduce improvements to the processes they handle, and harness the full potential of resources.” – Larissa Pickens, Founder @ Everfumed
As mentioned earlier, stretch goals can be a great way to bridge smaller team goals with wider company objectives, but this only works if you take the time to make sure they’re aligned.
Having your new stretch goals aligned with company goals helps in several ways. For example, it means that any overachievement from people working on the goals actually benefits the company in a direct way. Additionally, having them aligned gives employees a better understanding of the motivation for the stretch goals.
Use SMART goals
“Make small milestones and achievement points in between the actual goal. It will motivate the team to perform well. Use the SMART approach and allocate time to achieve the goals. Time limits always help to complete the work.” – David Attard, Digital Consultant and Web Designer @ Collectiveray
As with any goal, there are different methods to create the most effective stretch goals possible. One of the more popular approaches is SMART. This covers five concepts that every stretch goal should include:
Specific – move away from big, general concepts to focus on a precise area to work on.
Measurable – make your aims quantifiable, including milestones and metrics to know when you’ve actually hit your stretch goal.
Attainable – this is a little tricker with stretch goals than it normally would be since you’re trying to walk the line between out-of-reach and still attainable. One way to combat this is to start with a big stretch goal and break it down into smaller SMART productivity goals for your daily to-do list.
Relevant – is your stretch goal connected to the appropriate project, person, and broader organization objectives? If not, it is a waste of your time and your team’s talent.
Timely – stretch goals are only effective when they are time-bound. It makes them more actionable and easier to manage. What’s more, deadlines are one way to actually create stretch goals: try hitting the same aims but in a shorter time. For example:
- Main goal – redesign the branding by September
- Stretch goal – redesign the branding by July
Illustrate the Final Outcome
“Make sure that you understand what sort of reporting and measuring your teams respond best to and incorporate that into your planning. This includes whether your updates are visual or verbal, as well as how frequently updates are given.” – James Parkinson, Head of Marketing Content @ Personnel Checks
With big stretch goals, it can be hard to get everyone to see the final aim, the ultimate outcome. One way to keep the whole team on the same page and on the right track is to create visualizations to illustrate the final result.
This could include, for example, creating a shared calendar with the final stretch goal and milestones on it for everyone to see. Or, it could be something as simple as verbal updates that integrate stats, figures, or other data for each progress point. Either way, visual aids are always a good idea, providing a tangible milestone that everyone can recognize and recall when reaching for those ambitious stretch goals.
The Challenges to Overcome When Working with Stretch Goals
We’ve touched on a few of the potential pitfalls of stretch goals already, so it should come as no surprise that they come with challenges as well as compensation. While they are generally beneficial, the nature of stretch goals means that there are a few drawbacks that you might encounter, such as:
Vague Stretch Goals
“It’s tempting to write your stretch goals like just keep going if you’re consistently exceeding your objectives. This approach, however, can lead to stretch goals stretching too far, which is when they fail.
Your stretch goals should be as well-defined and well-considered as your initial goals. They should be detailed, measurable, and followed by a roadmap that outlines the specific activities you’ll need to take to reach your goals.” – Liam Quirk, SEO & E-commerce Strategy Director @ Enofabe
By aiming for lofty heights, stretch goals run the risk of becoming too vague. Small, granular goals can be achieved, while larger pie-in-the-sky concepts are hard to reach. Too hard, in this case, to be valuable. Instead of motivating your team, they are likely to disincentivize and disconnect employees from their work.
One way to mitigate the risk of this problem is to implement a technique such as SMART goals, mentioned earlier. This will keep stretch goals within the realm of reality and concrete enough for everyone to understand.
Not enough Skills or Tools to Reach the Targets
“To set stretch goals, there is a need to evaluate the motivation of the team and their ability to go the extra mile. Also, recent performances and available resources should be considered. Considering that most stretch goals are not set to be reached hundred percent, there is always an expected benchmark that should be used to measure the achievement.” – Maria A. McDowell, Founder @ EasySearchPeople
Just because your team is aiming for a stretch goal, doesn’t mean they have the skills, experience, or tools to reach it. If this is the problem blocking their path to success, it is your job as a manager to overcome it, offering training and tools for people to reach their full potential.
That said, stretch goals exposing a lack of skills isn’t necessarily a bad thing – if your team never reached its skill limit, how would they know what their next step should be? Pushing into new skills helps your team as a whole and each individual in their personal development.
“Stretch goals can be the difference between a poor outcome and one that drives your business forward. However, it can put an already high-performing team under unnecessary stress. Stretch objectives may not be necessary if your business has a culture of innovation and achievement.” – Jason Ball, Director @ Considered Content
We mentioned burnout briefly earlier, but it is a serious risk when working with stretch goals. They can cause high-performing individuals to worry about falling behind and sacrifice their own wellbeing and work-life balance in the pursuit of an out-of-reach goal.
If a team, or individual, is used to hitting every target, they will put in extra effort to reach a stretch goal. This is good to an extent but quickly has diminishing returns as they fatigue themselves. It’s up to managers to keep the balance between healthy effort and employee fatigue.
Examples of Stretch Goals
“I like stretch goals as they create imagination and creativity, when done right. The point to stretch goals is to solve a challenge that is basically unsolvable, and thereby create new and interesting solutions. I set stretch goals by addressing a real problem and then set a goal that is not attainable—like onboard and train a new developer in 2 weeks, for example. Then, I see where we are now (say 6 months training) and then at the end of the goal, see how far we’ve come. I measure it by relative success, for example, “improved the current training speed by 80%” and reward based on that. I also reward based on innovation. If the employee came up with novel approach to the problem – one that shows promise – I reward that.” – David Johnson, Chief Technology Officer @ Mulytic Labs
We’ve talked a lot about stretch goals, but sometimes the best way to figure out what they are and how they might benefit your company is simply to see them in action. Below are just a couple of stretch goal examples to give you an idea of how you could use them:
A startup with a subscription model is bringing on new customers at a reasonable rate. They are hoping for 700 sales next month, but have just added three new sales reps to the team and want a way to encourage a little more energy.
They decide to set a stretch goal for 1500 new customers in the next 30 days, hoping to push the new and old reps to work together to achieve a company sales record.
A video game publisher needs to overhaul its branding after entering a new territory, so the marketing department has set the goal of creating all elements by February of the coming year. The head of the marketing department knows this is an attainable goal, but wants to get everything wrapped by the new year to push the team.
The team manager sets the main goal for February but then creates a countdown clock to New Year’s Eve with the stretch goal of having everything designed, approved, and submitted by December 31st.
So, Should My Management Use Stretch Goals?
When implemented correctly, stretch goals effectively motivate your team to push harder and achieve more than ever before. There are, as with everything, some challenges that you’ll have to face, but at the end of the day, the benefits can be huge for you, your company, your team, and each individual within it.
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