How to set and track stretch goals to inspire your team

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Summary

Stretch goals are purposefully ambitious goals that challenge your team to step outside of their comfort zone. While they’re not for everyone, teams that are already performing well may get a boost from stretch goals. Besides inspiring and motivating your team, stretch goals can also positively impact your company’s performance and increase your chances of success.

If you’re the kind of person who consistently hits 100% of your goals, ask yourself—are you challenging yourself enough? You can only achieve true progress if you set at least a few goals outside of your comfort zone. These are called stretch goals.

Stretch goals are deliberately challenging goals that you can set for yourself, a project, or even your entire organization. The latter is called Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs).

In this article, you’ll learn what exactly classifies as a stretch goal, how they boost team performance, and how to set stretch goals that will inspire your team.

What are stretch goals?

Stretch goals are deliberately challenging goals that can inspire your team and boost their performance. Properly set stretch goals can be the breath of fresh air your team needs to get out of their comfort zone and enhance their performance.

Even if you don’t hit your stretch goal, it’s the perfect way to get out of your comfort zone and reach for the stars. Plus, stretch goals (whether they’re met or missed) can be a metric to calibrate new goals. 

[inline illustration] what are stretch goals (infographic)

For example, if you sold 5,000 products last quarter, you could set a stretch goal to sell 8,000 for the next quarter. A 60% increase may seem daunting, but it's still in the realm of possibility. Though stretch goals should be ambitious, you should stay away from making them impossible. For example, a goal of selling 15,000 items in the next quarter is likely out of reach.

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At Asana, we love setting stretch goals. We aim to hit about 70% of our quarterly goals so we know that we’re truly challenging ourselves but also so we can calibrate better goals for the upcoming quarter. 

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How to set and achieve stretch goals

There’s a difference between dreaming of an accomplishment and setting a stretch goal. Follow these steps to define what your stretch goal will be and how you and your team will achieve it:

  1. Ask yourself open-ended questions to define your stretch goal. Think about what the best case scenario of reaching your stretch goal could look like. How can your team improve their current work processes? How can you positively impact your industry? These types of questions will help you determine what kind of stretch goal to set.

  2. Consider your team’s or company’s available resources. Do you have the resources to work toward a stretch goal? Now’s the time to find out.

  3. Set your stretch goal. Gather your team for this process so they feel in charge of this big goal. Together, you can brainstorm how to allocate additional resources, establish a timeline, and create an action plan with stretch targets.

  4. Track your progress and shoot for the stars. While your stretch goal isn’t always going to be the highest priority for your team, it can be a great motivator. Track your team’s progress and celebrate every time you hit a milestone

  5. Evaluate your stretch goal. If by the end of the quarter (or whichever time frame you set for yourself) you haven’t hit your stretch goal, that’s okay. It doesn’t mean that your project was a failure, it’s simply proof that you set an ambitious goal for your team. Now take the time to evaluate why you missed the goal and learn from your findings.

Keep in mind that stretch goals shouldn’t cause your team to spend more time at work than they already do in a desperate attempt to hit the goal. Rather, stretch goals should be a source of motivation that help your team feel inspired and productive.

The stretch goal paradox

Stretch goals aren’t for everyone. Before setting one, it’s important to evaluate if and when your team is ready for this goal setting tool. 

The stretch goal paradox, introduced by the Harvard Business Review, suggests that organizations who should be using stretch goals seldom do and vice versa.

Funny enough, stretch goals often work best for teams that are already doing well. If your team is on a roll, they won’t feel as intimidated by a stretch goal and are more likely to feel inspired and encouraged to shoot for the stars.

Instead of focusing on stretch goals, a struggling team should focus on small wins or even small losses until they’re in a better spot. Once this happens, then you can focus on getting the resources you need to accomplish stretch goals.

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Reference the flowchart below to find out if your team is ready to set stretch goals:

[inline illustration] Are stretch goals right for you? flowchart (infographic)

Examples of stretch goals

There’s often a fine line between a project goal, a stretch goal, and a sheer impossible goal. Below are some examples of ambitious but realistic stretch goals.

Stretch goal for small businesses: Open a second brick and mortar location for your small business two years from now.

  • Why it’s a stretch goal: If your small business is doing well but you’re not quite ready to open a second store right now, it’s a great option to make this a stretch goal. As such, it can keep you and your team motivated while you dream of opening a new storefront in the future.

Stretch goal for project management: Increase your company’s revenue by 50–60% by the end of the year.

  • Why it’s a stretch goal: If you increased revenue by 35% last year, 40% would be a great goal for the following year. However, that’s not really stretching it. By setting the bar a little higher, to 50% or even 60%, you’re defining an ambitious stretch goal.

Stretch goal for a sales team: Become the top performing sales team in the company by the end of the quarter.

  • Why it’s a stretch goal: If your sales team has consistently been among the top 10 performers, setting this goal is ambitious but not impossible—exactly what you want out of an inspiring stretch goal. 

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Benefits of stretch goals

Stretch goals can help you boost your team’s performance and increase team morale. Some of the biggest benefits of stretch goals include:

  • Innovation: Stretch goals can breathe new life into a stale work environment. If your team has been lacking the creativity and spirit to drive a project or your organization forward, a stretch goal can help them feel inspired again. 

  • Productivity: Stretch goals can be the perfect motivation for a team that’s in need of productivity. Ambitious goals help your team focus on their highest-impact work, which is exactly what you want from them.

  • Commitment: Stretch goals are often ambitious because they’re directly linked to your company’s mission. When your team feels like they’re contributing to the overall success of your business, they’re more likely to work hard because they want to see those results.

  • Enthusiasm: An inspiring stretch goal can encourage your team to leverage available resources and get more creative when it comes to finding problem-solving methods.

Most importantly, all of these benefits can increase your team’s and organization’s chances of success. The more committed, productive, enthusiastic, and innovative your team is, the more likely you are as a business to reap the benefits of your team’s performance.

Pitfalls of stretch goals

Stretch goals can be challenging. If you don’t set them right, you risk making them a problem rather than a solution.

Risk: If you set vague, ambiguous, or outrageous stretch goals, they can make your team feel disconnected, discouraged, or even frustrated. 

  • Solution: Set SMART stretch goals. Even a stretch goal should be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound. SMART goals can ensure that the goals you set aren’t unattainable goals for your team. To keep track of your goals, use a goal-setting or work management software.

[inline illustration] SMART goal vs stretch goal (infographic)
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Risk: Stretch goals may be outside of your team’s skill set. Teammates who feel like their goals are unattainable may lose motivation.

  • Solution: Communicate that stretch goals are a chance for your team to acquire and learn new skills. It's important they know that you don't expect them to do everything perfectly right away.

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Risk: Stretch goals can feel intimidating. As your team gets closer to the deadline, they may feel pressure rising because they don't think they’ll reach the stretch goal.

  • Solution: Use ranges instead of fixed numbers or dates. A goal that states: “I want to grow my business by 500% by December” could be adjusted to something less intimidating, like: “Grow my business by 400–500% between December and March of next year.”

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Risk: Stretch goals aren’t necessarily meant to be met. If your team feels like they’re failing simply because they didn’t hit a goal, you may get the exact opposite of what you were hoping for: an unmotivated and stressed out team.

  • Solution: Clearly communicate what a stretch goal is and that nobody is going to get in trouble if you miss it. While it would be a great success to hit the goal, it’s mostly here for inspiration.

To quote Norman Vincent Peale: “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”

Dream big, track smart

No matter how big and wild your stretch goals are—Asana can help you keep track of them.

Our goal setting software is designed to align everyone on clear goals and inspire individual action so you can focus on what’s really important: turning your stretch goals into achievements.

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