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.
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?
Harvard Business Review: The Stretch Goal Paradox