5 Steps for Better Stretch Goals

Good leaders should want their employees to not only succeed but also push their limits and raise the bar. One way that can help employees get there, is through regular goal-setting. This can be challenging because often times, employees don’t understand the overarching visionand goals of a company or organization. So it’s important that all players are aligned on the corporate vision in order to effectively start with the goals process. With that firmly in place, a manager can try to push his or her employees by suggesting stretch goals—the type of target that may seem impossible.

There are differing views of the efficacy of stretch goals. Some feel that setting the bar too high can cause dejection, making people feel like they’re getting nowhere and that they’ll never achieve the mark. Some studies even suggest that, with impossible goals in place, people become more and more dishonest or even ruthless in their pursuit of results—which has been shown to cost companies billions each year. Others, however, feel that, particularly for top performers (who are already driven to achieve and succeed), stretch goals can be motivational, and a huge reward in and of themselves once they are achieved.
Leaders who feel the stretch-goal value outweighs the risks should consider the following as they work with their employees on goal-setting:

1. Determine whether the stretch goal is right for the situation—for your employee, for your team, and for the company. It could be devastating for your employee to achieve something difficult, only to see that it was unnecessary, counterproductive, or worthless.

2. Be sure that not all of the employee’s goals are stretch goals—limit the number to one or two per goal-setting round. If an employee has too many near-impossible targets to hit, he or she might get deflated pretty quickly.

3. Be sure that there are manageable milestones as part of the goal, and celebrate the small wins as your employee achieves them. A climber doesn’t reach the top of the mountain in one leap but in many steps.

4. By the same token, don’t punish failure. That same mountain climber sometimes has to reroute (often even backwards) to navigate to the top effectively.

5. Provide adequate and noticeable support. People usually work harder—and achieve more—when they know someone is in their court and monitoring their progress.

With those ideas in mind, managers can help their employees to achieve stretch goals and potentially reach amazing results.

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