Stretch Goals

For those who have been through any kind of strategic planning, personal development planning, project planning or party planning, you have certainly had to set a goal.  And usually with goals come a nebulous idea of “stretch” goals.  Stretch goals are intentionally hard to reach, maybe even impossible.  But some people aren’t comfortable with putting down a goal that can’t be reached.  That’s understandable.  Why set yourself up for failure?  Maybe there should be goals, big goals and then stretch goals.  But I think a better solution is to perhaps define what a stretch goals really is, and what it should represent.

In Blue Ocean Strategy (one of my favorite business books), there is a great review of the business transformation of Swatch watches.  They took a whole new approach to their industry, starting with the idea of their price point first, then working backward through their process to get to profit.  It’s a great story, and a great example of stretch.  If you put a 75% reduction of production costs in the strategic plan, you’d have some nervous people in the room.  And they did.  Then they made it happen.  Go read about it.  I’ll wait here.

When I think stretch goals, I think of stories like that.  Incredible tales of what Jim Collins would call a BHAG (big, hairy, audacious goal) and the teams who reach them.  His epic Good to Great is full of them.  Go read that one as well.  There are a lot of stories between those two books, many of them about teams that did what looked impossible.

Why do I bring it up?  Because when I think of stretch goals, I think of these stories.  And the lesson is this:

If you reach your stretch goals, someone will write a book about it.

Think your goals aren’t worthy of being preserved as lessons to future leaders?  Then maybe they aren’t really stretch.  Maybe they are just big goals.  Nothing wrong with that.  We should all have big goals.  But you might want to scribble down a stretch goal or two as well.  You don’t even have to tell anyone about it.  Just know they exist.  Because if you don’t, you’ll never reach them.


  1. I am not a big fan of goals. I do agree when you are working on continual improvement it is helpful to provide some guidance on what type of improvement is desired. If you want to improve 5% a year that will require a different strategy than improving something 50% a year. 5% may well be possible with little tweak and numerous minor improvements.

    50% gains may well require throwing out some current ways of doing things and changing things radically. When a 50% target is given, unless the manager is a fool, they understand they are also giving permission to make some radical changes in how things are done.

    I don’t personally use goals. And I have accomplished plenty. The idea that you can’t accomplish things without goals is faulty. I realize some people think setting goals help them achieve. If so, I have no problem with them using them themselves.

    You often see whoever happens do well in some sports league talk about achieving the goals they set for themselves. Because so many people believe in the power of goals you will also find that nearly all the losing teams had nearly identical goals. It is hardly a confirmation of the usefulness of goals that so many fail to reach the goals they set (even while a few do reach them).

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