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If you do not adapt, if you do not learn, you will wither, you will die.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Stretch Goals – Overused, Misused, Abused


My conversation with a senior leader of a global company three days ago prompted this post.

I do appreciate stretch goals.

I do believe they can spur energy, dedication, and creativity.

I do see that stretch goals can lead to a higher level of performance than their easier, more incremental counterparts. 

I do know from my work with organizations in the past 23 years that they can be motivating and exciting because stretch goals convey a great deal of trust and confidence in the employee.

Or so they should. Because too often stretch goals are overused, misused, and abused. Let’s first agree on the concept. Stretch goals …. “require extending oneself to the limit to be actualized” is what it says in the business dictionary. If I turn to the person who is said to have coined the term, Jack Welch, he described setting stretch goals as the process of asking for the almost impossible. This appeared to have been his method to get employees to reach above and beyond what they thought possible. The ultimate goal? Continuous, outstanding results. Did it work? Often it did. With certain workers it did.

But stretch goals lead to underperformance, disengagement, and conflict:

·       If they are used as a way for managers or leaders to push forward their own agenda regardless of the circumstances and the feasibility.
·       If the people working on these stretch goals experience a lack of capabilities, resources, and leadership commitment.
·       If stretch goals increase competition to a level where disagreement, an open and constructive discussion of obstacles, and other types of candor are hindered.
·       If they lead to a battle for staff and other resources.
·       If they lead to withholding information and obstructing the sharing of relevant knowledge.

Stretch goals should push and motivate you to better performance, and the best way to accomplish this is by triggering you to think and believe differently, more open-mindedly and more collaboratively in order to decide and perform differently, and yes, better. Stretch goals should inspire you to take different perspectives, to part from your traditional ways of approaching a situation. In this context, stretch goals are more exciting and effective than the steady-and-slow, reliable-yet-boring incremental goals. In most other cases, stretch goals stand too good a chance of being overused, abused, and misused. 

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