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Pushing limits

Stretch goals are objectives set that aim to push your team further than ever before. The aim is often assumed to be impossible or at least previously not achieved. The idea is that by setting such an ambitious target team members are pushed out of their comfort zone and may produce work even they weren’t aware they could. 


When are they used?

Stretch goals are commonly used as a tactic to generate a response from a team ‘stuck in their ways’. Teams can become used to performing at the same level and adhering to the status quo and a stretch goal may be enough to initiate an increase in productivity. Stretch goals can also be used when processes clearly are not working. They can spark whole new ideas and processes that hadn’t been considered before. 


Different types of stretch goals

Horizontal stretch goals – These goals aim to change existing processes or products. For example, an organisation may have a hold in the deodorant market, but senior managers set a target or equalling this market share in the shampoo market. 

Vertical stretch goals – These goals aim to take existing processes to new levels. For instance, the organisation may currently be selling 1,000 units per month but senior managers set a target of doubling this to 2,000. It is likely processes and products will remain the same, but they must be sold at a higher rate.


Positives vs Negatives

Stretch goals have the power to push teams to heights they have never experienced before. New processes may be unearthed and new skills acquired. This can also lead to a dramatic increase in employee confidence and engagement. The setting, and subsequent reaching, of stretch goals can transform teams or individuals from average to consistently high performers. 

However, stretch goals do not only deliver benefits to an organisation and in fact they have the potential to have devastating consequences. The ambitious objectives, often with lucrative rewards if achieved, can lead to unnecessary risk taking and unethical behaviour. These projects can also be tiring and demanding and hence in some instances stretch goals have also lead to absenteeism and stress. It is also possible that the targets are so unachievable that they de-motivate employees.


Key points to remember 

The success of a stretch goals initiative will depend on the situation, and hence it is important to only introduce it in the right situation. This includes, when the overall goal is not critical, when the team is prepared for a demanding project and when the risks of failure aren’t too severe. It is also important to emphasise to your team members that the project is about progress, rather than success or failure. Anything above the level that was previously being met is positive, regardless of whether the actual goal was met. Resistance is also natural, as with many change initiatives, and should be expected. 


Continue on to setting Key Performance Indicators

Golovin, Jonathan. (1997). Achieving Stretch Goals. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall PTR, 1997. Print.

Kerr, Steven, and Steffen Landauer. (2004). Using Stretch Goals to Promote Organisational Effectiveness And Personal Growth: General Electric And Goldman SachsAcademy of Management Executive 18.4 (2004): 134-138. Web.

Sitkin, Sim B. et al. (2011). The Paradox Of Stretch Goals: Organisations In Pursuit Of The Seemingly Impossible. Academy of Management Review 36.3 (2011): 544-566. Web.