Of course any goal will provide focus and motivation for you to put in the amount of effort you need to do really well. But setting goals is never going to be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ thing, particularly if your motivation is waning. So, there are goals, and there are stretch goals.

But what is a stretch goal? Well, by definition, its aggressively ambitious, aiming for results radically beyond your current capacity and output, focusing on extremely difficult or extremely novel challenges that require innovative approaches.  It’s one that pushes you, your team or your organisation to dream big, shoot for the stars and achieve extraordinary results.

Setting stretch goals will involve having radical expectations that go beyond your current capabilities and performance. And when your performance expectations are set at what would appear to be near-impossible levels, all your previous techniques, routines and frameworks simply won’t do. Chuck them out the window, it’s time for a re-think, for complete innovation.

Importantly, what most people don’t realise is that a real stretch goal it is not about doing more of the same. It must be impossible to hit by doing more of the same old stuff. It is definitely not about ‘doubling the turnover ‘ and expecting everyone to work harder and longer. It;s about innovating and creating new ways to achieve new results.

A real stretch goal is going to be about breaking into unchartered territory, smashing new ground,  requiring different thinking, a whole new approach, revolution not evolution, qualitative not quantitative change. For some this can breed a palpable sense of excitement and energy. So by its very nature, a stretch goal may bring greater rewards, but with it, comes the inevitably greater risks.

The idea of stretch goals might sound incredibly alluring and exciting to you. It certainly is for some business leaders and people managers. But no doubt, sparking unfathomable business success is never a simple task at all.

And not every stretch goal is going to be a success either, So the first thing to ask yourself when setting a stretch goal is, what is the goal/the objective.

Create a way to encourage more task-related activity (do it 20 times a day) than performance based activity (sell 100 widgets by the end of the month) as it brings people into the present, which can feel more appealing, less daunting. Repetitive activity and deliberate practice builds confidence and moves people towards their goal whilst lessening the inherent pressure of the stretch goal looking over them.

What? Set your objective. Understand what is it you want to accomplish? As for any other goal setting exercise, make it specific, bound by a time frame, measurable and verifiable.

So next, it’s really important that when thinking about how you might introduce stretch goals for yourself, or others, before anything, you truly define and understand the purpose of the stretch goal. So consider:

Why? Your clear, compelling sense of why must be understood.

Critically, an understanding of your values and personal development goals, would increase the likelihood of a stretch goal aligning with those. If the goal doesn’t align with your values and purpose there is very little point in pursuing it.

Lastly, how? How are you going get this done?

Develop a clear plan of action, of course. But this time the plan demands innovative, creative approaches and new ways of learning and doing things.

This can take you to new heights, or at the very least shake you out of a rut.

If the stretch goal is too outlandish, you may find that you, and those around you, can’t fully engage with the challenge. Be aware that Stretch goals do not always go to plan either. So it’s vital to approach any goal – particularly a stretch goal with thorough planning and consideration of how things just might go haywire!

It’s vital to break down the larger challenges into smaller challenges that produce visible results, and maintain that the strategy of “small wins” . This generates more action because it enables you or the people around you to make slow, steady progress, and see change s actually happening. It’s possible to make significant strides with smaller, achievable goals that boost your commitment and morale, or your team’s chemistry and involvement.

If the conditions are right, and you are ready to take on a stretch goal, you need to remember that stretch goals, by definition, are extremely difficult and may fail.  If you or your team does fail to meet its stretch goal, it’s important to learn from the experience and focus on solutions, rather than finding someone to blame. Remember  You will either win or learn.

Some people are driven to reach beyond what’s possible, while others rely on consistent achievement, and positive momentum, and sustained progress. It’s up to you to understand your capabilities, resources, and resolve, and put yourself in a position to succeed.

When stretch goals seem overwhelming and unattainable, they can sap peoples’ motivation. The enormity of the problem or challenge can cause people to freeze up, they can become overwhelmed and discouraged when faced with massive and complex issues.

The simple premise suggests, of course, that pushing people to dream bigger and shoot for the stars will inevitably lead them to innovate and outperform what they’d previously imagined possible. And it can, but it doesn’t always.

If there’s seemingly no chance for success, and no benchmarks to indicate a job well done, anybody’s motivation could be sapped.

I love the concept of stretch goals, but I have a couple of  warnings about them:

1) If you set a stretch goal wrong (ie without resources, the right mindset or buy-in from everyone) and it can demotivate people

2) Stretch goals  can have a dangerous tendency to foster unethical behaviour, because people under extreme pressure to achieve unrealistic goals can sometimes make unethical decisions, or take excessive risks.

While dreaming big can be thrilling, nothing drives culture and future performance like meaningful  success.  Everyone loves to part of something extraordinary, to be part of a meaningful legacy. Stretch goals need to be about your excellence, your human excellence, and really not about financial targets.

Financial goals bring out the worst in us – the selfish gene -that lurks in all of us. Instead, stretch goals need to appeal to the very best in us.

So three things to consider when setting stretch goal:

What? Firstly set your objective – what is it you want to accomplish?

Why? Reveal your clear, compelling sense of why which align with you values.

How? An innovative plan of attack that breaks new ground.

Set meaningful and audacious goals, but ensure they are the right goals, for the right reasons, for you.

Useful links:

High expectations will turn you into a cheater

Set goals around tasks not outcomes

Google’s philosophy