stretch goals: how to motivate your team

Stretch Goals: How to Motivate and Challenge Your Team

It’s that time of year. All around the world teams are being handed stretch goals that feel more like a delusion than a challenge. If this is happening to you, and you don’t know whether to laugh or cry, don’t give up hope.

I’ve felt that sinking “There’s no way to pull this off” feeling more times than I can count—and yet most of the time, the team rallied to the challenge and achieved more than they ever thought possible. You can too. Time to rally the team.

6 Ways to Approach Impossible Stretch Goals

It starts by making big goals feel small and then getting curious about new ways to approach the work.

1. Break down the numbers

I was listening to a Senior Vice President tee-up my keynote to his frontline team.

His math to achieve the stretch goal was brilliant. If they could move the needle 1% on a key performance metric, they would save 2 million dollars! And if they saved that money, it would completely change their margins and enable them to reinvest in some of the additional programs the employees really wanted.

It’s pretty hard to argue that it’s impossible to improve 1%. And he had clearly communicated a compelling “why” that got their attention.

That afternoon, we worked so that every manager left that meeting with specific behavioral commitments to improving their results  (which we collected in an online forum.)

I did a similar math exercise when I was in my sales exec role.

Instead of setting a goal of moving our team from 2% of our revenue coming from small and medium business sales to 20% (which we eventually achieved) we simply asked each sales rep to close one small deal (of at least 5 lines).

We knew it would only take 80% of the team hitting that manageable target to gain real momentum. Five lines sounded quite doable and in a few months, most of the team was there and had gained confidence they could do more.

2. And then stop talking about the numbers

The focus on the number is to make the big goals feel small. AND talking about numbers doesn’t actually build confidence or competence. Once you’ve broken down the goal resist the urge to make your daily conversations about the number—instead focus on consistently performing one or two vital behaviors you know will make an impact.

3. Uncover best practices

Pay close attention to who is knocking the results out of the park and why. Don’t just ask. Get out there and observe them in action. They may not even know why they are successful.

4. Encourage innovative ideas

If it’s really a stretch, it’s unlikely that just executing flawlessly on your current plan is enough. And it’s likely your team has ideas on how to work smarter. In our recent research, 40% of participants said they lacked the confidence to bring forward a new idea, and 67% said the reason they didn’t share their ideas was that no one asked. Be specific about the areas where you could use your team’s best thinking.

Note: See more in our article in Recruiter: Breaking the Safe Silence: Building a Culture Where People Share Their (Good) Ideas

5. Build friendly team competitions

Pair off your team into performance-enhancing diads. The idea is to pick someone who is high-performing in the skill you’re trying to cultivate and one who is struggling. Then you give them a joint target to hit. Any diads that achieve the joint goal win a prize. Since the teams are only competing against their collective target, not one another, encourage the diads to share best practices with one another as well. Everyone wins. Results improve quickly.

6. Change up your weekly one-on-ones

Our clients who regularly use our weekly MIT one-on-one huddle planner (which you can download for free here) tell us it’s made an incredible impact on their ability to hit their targets. It helps keep the team focused on specific behaviors in terms of results and relationships, as well as talking about how the manager can help remove barriers

Your turn: What are your best ideas for helping your team achieve stretch goals?

See Also:

How to Encourage Your Team When Results Are Disappointing

Harvard Business Review: The Stretch Goal Paradox

Best Kept Secrets: Getting Your Team to Share Best Practices

A Better Way to START your SMART GOAL process

If you’re really stuck in the creative process, your heart is telling you something. Listen to it. I did, and found myself backward mapping my entrepreneurial journey and found the START before SMART goal process.

The Start of START

I was recently asked to give a workshop for the National Speakers Association on SMART goals to help entrepreneurs launch their businesses. This is an important audience whom I care about deeply and wanted to help. But as I went to craft the talk, I found myself just staring at my computer, hopping on Twitter, and finally finding time to take that run… as Steven Pressfield would say, I was deep into the resistance phase of the creativity process.

Sure I could talk SMART goals–almost every leadership development person can. And possibly, this would not feel as old news to this crowd as it did to me, but I wasn’t certain. More awkwardly, the truth is that I can’t attribute any of my early success to S.M.A.R.T. goals.  I really resisted all the advice that well-meaning supporters gave me as I launched my business. “Set a specific revenue goal and break down which markets your income will come from.” “Set a measurable goal for the number of subscribers you’ll have by when.” “Identify a concrete strategy to monetize your blog.” “Contact 20 people a week and ask for the business.”

The truth is, my heart wasn’t ready for SMART goals at that stage of the game.

For me there needed to be a period of focused, deliberate, intense, long hours of what can no better be described as “mucking about.”

I needed to write, to speak, to explore, to connect, to knock on doors, to have doors open, to have doors close, to love, to get ticked off, to learn, to get rejected, to get accepted, to get supported, to support, to get burned, to invest wisely, to waste some dough… mostly to figure out who I really was as this new brand and what my unique contribution could be to the world.

I worked really hard.  But, I’ll admit, I didn’t write down a single goal.

I kept assuring my husband I was planting bulbs. Thank goodness he believed me.

And one by one the bulbs began to blossom and bloom in the most unusual places. I stayed open and the seeds began to spread.

And so today, I share with you an alternative to jumping right into your SMART goal planning: S.T.A.R.T. before S.M.A.R.T.

The S.T.A.R.T. Before S.M.A.R.T. Goals Process

1. S-  Sankalpa: Based in the yogic tradition well outlined in Rod Stryker’s latest book, spend the reflective time needed to truly identify what you most want.

Ask yourself:  What results would truly fill my heart’s desire?

2. T- Transformation: Identify who or what will be transformed as a result of your efforts.

Ask yourself:  What does success look like?

 3. A- Authenticity: Identify your values, operating principles and define your brand.

Ask yourself: What do I most value?

4. R- Relationships: Invest in building deep relationships based on trust and mutual support. Be deliberate with whom you spend your time.

Ask yourself: How will I enrich my relationships?

5. T- Timing: Prioritize your time. Develop a renewal strategy.

Ask yourself: How must I invest my time?

S.M.A.R.T. goals are vital. Everyone needs them. But sometimes it’s useful to head back to the beginning and S.T.A.R.T. Before S.M.A.R.T.

Help Your Team Become More this Year

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”
~ John Quincy Adams

At the turn of one new year, I remember my eyes were crossing and my neck was twitchy after 27 conference calls to finalize our New Year Performance Agreements. We’ve debated what defines a “balanced scorecard” and negotiated performance objectives down to the decimal point. As is par for the course in big companies, standardization is vital to ensure we’re fair and consistent. But nailing the perfect performance formula alone won’t inspire game-changing ideas or grow deeper leadership.
If you’re mired in similar new year performance activities, be sure you take time to engage deeper conversations. Encourage your team to become more.

Questions to Help Your Team BECOME More

Start by discussing specific behaviors to ensure your team will nail their KPIs. I’ve watched far too many leaders miss this step. Then go deeper. B.E.C.O.M.E. more.

Discuss …

B- Boldness: Scary dreams, deeper challenges, courageous moves and daring decisions

  • What could you accomplish this year if you had unlimited resources? What is a different means to a similar end?
  • Where (and with whom) are you playing it safe? At what cost?
  • What dreams are you saving for later?

E- Energy: Passion ignitors and life-force zappers

  • When, where, and with whom do you feel most alive?
  • Which aspects of your work exhaust you?
  • What will you do to renew your energy this year?

C- Callings: What or who is calling for more

  • What work would you pursue, even if you weren’t paid?
  • Who most inspires your professional life? How can you attract more people with those qualities?
  • Which of your gifts lie dormant in your current role?

O-Openness: Possibilities, awareness, and receiving the unknown

  • What possibilities are you ignoring?
  • How and where will you find creative inspiration?
  • How will you invite input and feedback?

M-More: Seeing bigger, broader, and giving more

  • How will this year be categorically different from last year?
  • What do you most want to be known?
  • Who will you serve?

E-Execution: What actions matter most (and least). Envision breakthrough success.

  • What would make this year the best in your career?
  • Who else can you invite to join your leadership pit crew?
  • What could get in the way of your success?

Invite each member of your team to choose 2 or 3 questions that would best serve them this year. Discuss the questions in your one-on-ones. Encourage the team to pick a few questions to discuss as a team. Set the stage for a breakthrough year of becoming.

The Power of Great Expectations

It was March over a decade ago. I had just finished singing Amazing Grace and was headed down from the choir loft back to my pew. My Dad began the eulogy for my Grandma, who had died that week. He looked at his brothers and sisters in the first row and said, “I am thankful for expectations.”

Me too.

Sometimes we are told to expect less. Don’t listen. Some of my biggest successes have come just after I was warned to “lower my expectations.”

I was told not to expect…

  • to sell that product in my rural market
  • to get that job without direct experience
  • “them” to care as much as me
  • to make an impact too quickly
  • that kind of motivation to work in a union environment
  • the VP to wear that costume
  • those famous writers to respond to my email

Go beyond the expected.

Expect More

For Yourself

Expect bigger. It’s not too late. Chose the right influencers.

Thank others for their great expectations.

For Your Team

Teams thirst for challenge – not just “stretch” goals.

Expect more. Tell them what you expect. Expect magic.
Expect your team to BE better, not just achieve more.

For Your Family

Oh boy, here’s where it gets tricky. So much self-help literature says to let go of expectations. I’ll leave those posts to other bloggers. Like my Dad, I am grateful for expectations and possibilities.

Expect excellence, nurture talents, forgive failures, learn together.

How do you create powerful expectations?

Discard and Replenish: What Will You Stop Doing in 2013?

You had a great year, you worked hard, you achieved results, and learned along the way. Great, now what can you discard?

2013 will bring new challenges, exciting initiatives and inspiring ideas. With that will come more work, new project plans, and of course new metrics and reporting. The new initiatives will come on fast and furious, likely with sizzle and inspiration.

Your days were already full no matter how refreshed you feel, you cannot add more stuff, without discarding what has become clutter. Your team can’t either.

How can you empower them to discard?

What Can You Discard?

Before the new year excitement.

Make some room.

Ask some good questions.

Push back to others as needed.

Be sure your team is doing what matters.

What Goals No Longer Serve?

  • What was important in 2012 that no longer aligns with the evolving vision?
  • What are you pursuing because you always have?
  • What are you doing because it feels good and comfortable?

What Must Stop?

  • Revisit your team’s daily routine. Are all tasks still vital? How do they align with your 2013 goals?
  • What tasks have become less important?
  • What agendas are others still pushing which no longer align with your vision and goals?
  • What can you stop doing?
  • What???

What Metrics No Longer Serve Your Vision?

  • What reports haven’t been used in months?
  • What metrics have become less vital?
  • If you were only able to measure 3 things, what would they be? Why?
  • What other questions should you be asking????

How Must You Evolve?

  • How has your team matured?
  • Which leadership behaviors are no longer needed?
  • What do they need most from you this year?
  • What?

A new year provide opportunities for fresh starts and new challenges. Consider having a deliberate discard conversation with your team. This can also be done as a team building exercise, where each team member asks for feedback on what they should start, stop and continue doing to achieve the teams vision.

How to Pick the Right Big Goal

Want more success and fun for your team? Try picking one BIG goal.

When looking to make a difference for the business, I always look for the “one big goal” that we can accomplish that will really make an impact. As Covey would say, what is your most “Wildly Important Goal”?  What will be dramatically different (better) after our team is done with it? What needs to be transformed?

Of course, organizations are complex and it’s impossible to have a singular focus. However, I have found that planning for one BIG success, along with one or two other related goals, creates a clear path that is easy to follow. You will know if you have accomplished this if years later, people are still talking about the contribution that team made.

4 Ways to Grow Your Goal

Pick the Right BIG Goal

  • What does the business need most?
  • What are others struggling to accomplish?
  • What do people think can’t be done?
  • What is this team best positioned to do?
  • Are you passionately personally committed to this?

Gain Alignment

  • Do your boss and other key stakeholders see this as vital (even if they don’t think it is doable)
  • Are at least a few strong and energetic people on your team aligned (I have found in real turnaround situations, it usually takes some time to get everyone there)
  • Develop a zealous engagement and communication plan
  • Reinforce the vision non-stop (I have been accused of being a “maniac” about the vision)
  • Create imagery to align with the goal (use it to tie everything together)

Engage the Team

  • Involve everyone in the planning and execution
  • Involve them more
  • Break the problem down into manageable pieces, celebrate every milestone
  • Celebrate the big contributors, have them teach others
  • Learn from your skeptics, that bring them in to help
  • Celebrate the skeptic turnaround stories
  • Communicate constantly on the subject

Recognize Every Little Win

  • Create a rally cry, celebrate every contribution and link it to the bigger picture
  • Pay attention to what is working everywhere you go
  • Make success easy to notice, celebrate loudly and everywhere
  • Stay the course

In a complicated world we must do many things well. We must be “AND” leaders. I have also found that it is much more fun to also pick the home run in advance and leave nothing on the field when playing toward that goal.