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Last Updated on December 20, 2020

How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

Stretch goals are a lot like physical fitness. When you adopt a physical sport such as running, continual practice leads to increased stamina, growth, and progress.

While commitment to the sport improves performance, true growth happens when you are working harder and getting stretched beyond your comfort zone. I know this from personal experience.

For years, I was an avid runner. I ran with a variety of running groups in the Washington, D.C. area and in Columbus, Ohio, where I lived prior to moving to the nation’s capital.

While I was initially fearful about slacking off on my exercise habit when I moved to D.C., running enthusiasts in the area provided continual motivation, inspiring me to lace up my shoes day after day.

I was never a particularly fast runner, but I enjoyed the afterglow of the sport: being completely drained but feeling a sense of accomplishment; setting and reaching goals; buying and wearing out new tennis shoes. The sound of throngs of feet pounding the pavement in semi-unison is still enough to bring tears to my eyes.

Of all the groups I ran with, the Pacers Store group that met on Monday nights boasted the fastest runners. I met up with the group week after week only to be the slowest runner. It was difficult to muster the courage to get up every week and meet the group knowing what was waiting for me: sweating and watching the backs of fellow runners.

Each time I joined the group, I was stretching myself without even realizing it. Instead of feeling like I was transitioning into a better running, for a long time I felt I was torturing myself.

Then, something remarkable happened. I went for a run with a different set of runners and noticed my time had improved. I was running at a faster pace and doing so with ease, giving me a new competitive advantage.

The reason I was becoming a better runner was because I was taking myself out of my comfort zone and challenging myself physically and mentally. This example illustrates the process of growth.

Fortunately, we can create situations that stretch us in our personal and professional lives.

What Is a Stretch Goal?

A stretch goal is something that is extremely difficult and novel. It is something that not everyone does, and it’s sometimes considered impossible[1].

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In general, you establish stretch goals by doing things that are difficult or temporarily challenging.

For instance, when I was first promoted to a senior communications management role, I knew I needed to beef up my relationships with media personalities. I set a goal to once a month book a day of media interviews in New York City – which is home to many media outlets, including SiriusXM radio, CNN, NBC News, HuffPost, and VIBE.

This was a huge goal because it meant not only identifying the right people to meet with but convincing them to meet with me and my team. While I didn’t end up meeting the goal of doing a full day of media interviews in New York City, I met more people than I would have met had I not established the goal and instead stayed in the comfort of my D.C. office.

It is important to note that just because you establish a stretch goal doesn’t mean you’ll achieve the goal each time. However, the process of trying is guaranteed to provide some level of growth.

The Importance of Setting Stretch Goals

The beginning of the year is a perfect time to assess where you are excelling and where there is room for you to grow. I typically start the year by creating a yearlong strategic plan for myself.

I think about the things that are necessary to do and things that would be cool to do. I assess the people I should know and think through how to meet them. Then, I ask myself if the goals are realistic and what would need to happen for me to achieve them.

Over time, I have learned that there are five things you can do to set stretch goals:

1. Get Out of Your Head

If you exist within the confines of your imagination, you imperil your own growth and creativity.

If you examine your accomplishments and celebrate them in isolation of others’ accomplishments, your vantage point is limited without the big picture.

You want to be comfortable with what you accomplish, but you also want to be motivated by watching others. In some respects, stretching is about expanding your network of friends, associates, and mentors. These are the people who will propel or slow your growth and development.

Since two are better than one, always value being able to share your progress with others, seeking feedback, and then mapping a plan for success.

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2. Focus on a Couple Areas at a Time

When setting stretch goals, it is important to focus on a couple of areas at a time. Most of us are only able to focus on a few things at a time, and if you feel you are unable to tackle all that is before you, you may simply disengage.

I see this in so many areas of life:

When people get in debt, if they believe the debt is insurmountable, they refuse to look at incoming bills for fear of facing down the debt. Unfortunately, many businesses go awry when setting stretch goals.

In “The Stretch Goal Paradox,” the authors note:

“Our research suggests that though the use of stretch goals is quite common, successful use is not. And many executives set far too many stretch goals. In the past five years, for example, Tesla failed to meet more than 20 of founder Elon Musk’s ambitious projections and missed half of them by nearly a year, according to the Wall Street Journal.”

Goal-setting is like a marathon, not a sprint. It doesn’t all need to happen at the same time, and pacing is extremely important if you want to get to the finish line. It is better to focus on a couple of goals at a time, master them, and then move on to the next thing.

3. Set Aside Time Each Year to Focus on Goal-Setting

When I was a managing director for communications for the Advancement Project, I spent the first part of every year facilitating a communications planning meeting.

The planning meeting began with the team members assessing the goals the team had established in the preceding year, and whether those goals were realistic or not. If we failed to meet certain goals, we broke down why that happened. From there, we brainstormed about possibilities for the current year.

For instance, one year we set a goal of pitching and getting 24 opinion essays published. This was audacious because no one on the eight-person team had the luxury of focusing exclusively on editing and pitching opinion essays to publications around the world. We would need to focus on pitching in between the rest of our work.

We hit this goal within the first eight months of the year. Remarkably, in total, we ended up getting 40 opinion essays published that year, which was an indication that our original goal was too low. We upped the goal to 41 the next year, and amazingly, we hit 42 published opinion essays or guest columns.

From this experience, we not only learned what was feasible; we also learned the power of focus.

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When we focused as a team on getting the commentary on our issues out in the public domain, we were successful. The key in all of this is that there was a ton of discussion around which goal we’d pursue and why.

Equally important, as a manager, is that I didn’t set the goals alone; the team members and I established the goals collaboratively. This ensured buy-in from each individual.

4. Use the S.M.A.R.T. Goal Model to Set Realistic Goals

S.M.A.R.T.

is a synonym for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound[2]. For the sake of this article, the realistic portion of the acronym is most important when talking about stretch goals.

Want to Crush Your Goals? Get SMART | Inspiration | MyFitnessPal

    While you want to set audacious goals, you want to ensure that they are realistic as well. No one is served by setting a goal that is impossible to accomplish.

    Failing to meet goals can be demoralizing for teams, so it’s important to be sober-eyed about what is possible. Additionally, the purpose of setting goals is to advance and grow, not depress morale.

    For instance, my team would have been discouraged had I begun the year asking it to pitch and place 40 opinion essays if we didn’t already have a track record of placing close to two dozen essays.

    By using the S.M.A.R.T. formula, we were able to achieve all that we set out to do.

    5. Break the Goal up Into Small, Digestible Parts

    I am a recovering perfectionist. As a writer, being a perfectionist can be counterproductive because I can fail to start if I don’t see a clear pathway to victory.

    The same is true with goal-setting, especially when it comes to stretch goals. That’s why it is critically important to break goals into bite-sized chunks.

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    When I had a goal of doing daylong media meetings in New York City, I had to think through all the barriers to achieving that goal and all the steps required to meet the goal.

    One step was identifying which reporters, producers, and hosts to engage. Another step was writing a pitch or meeting invitation that would capture their attention. Another step was thinking through the program areas I wanted to highlight and the new angles I could offer to different reporters.

    Since reporters want to cover stories that no one else has written, I needed to come up with fresh angles for each of the reporters I was engaging. An additional step was thinking through who from my team I’d take with me to the various meetings.

    I was clear that, as a talking head, as public relations reps are sometimes called, I needed the right spokesperson in order to land repeated meetings with different outlets.

    A final step was thinking through what I needed to bring to each meeting and which reports, videos and testimonials would buttress our claims and be of interest to media figures.

    As I walked through what was needed to bring my goal of doing daylong meetings to reality, I realized that not only was the idea within reach, but I was excited to tackle the challenge.

    From that point until now, I have learned to break down goals into smaller parts and tackle the smaller parts on the path to knocking the goal out of the park.

    The Bottom Line

    These are my recommendations for setting stretch goals, and there are a ton of other resources to support you in the workplace and in your community.

    By stretching your limits and pushing just a little further each time, you can experience more personal and business success than you ever imagined.

    Featured photo credit: Isaac Smith via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Harvard Business Review: The Stretch Goal Paradox
    [2] My Fitness Pal: Want to Crush Your Goals? Get SMART

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    Jennifer R. Farmer

    An author and trainer specializes in helping socially-conscious entrepreneurs, celebrities and activists

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    Last Updated on January 19, 2021

    How to Set Goals Instead of Resolutions for the New Year

    How to Set Goals Instead of Resolutions for the New Year

    For many people, a new year is a fresh start, a do-over of sorts, that motivates you to try something new or to recommit to those tasks you put on hold because you were too busy tending to more important things. When we talk about the new year, one word often comes to mind: resolutions. You may ask your friends or co-workers about their New Year’s resolutions, finding that yours are similar to theirs: lose weight, get out more, save money. But, what exactly are resolutions? To make a resolution is to resolve to do something.The dictionary says that to resolve is “to make a definite and serious decision to do something.” That sounds promising. But, what happens after you’ve made that decision? How do you carry it out?

    Instead of making resolutions, setting measurable goals is more likely to lead to success in seeing your hopes and dreams come to fruition. Want to increase the chances of seeing your dreams become reality? Here are five goal-setting tips that will get you started on your journey towards reaching your goals.

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    Be S.M.A.R.T.

    When it comes to goal setting, S.M.A.R.T. is a familiar acronym for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-sensitive. Too often, people set goals that are vague and unrealistic. Not only does this lead to frustration, but it also decreases the likelihood of actually achieving the goal. The S.M.A.R.T. method can be applied to a variety of goals, whether professional or personal, giving you the tools you need to succeed in your goal setting endeavors.

    Write it down

    The daily minutiae of life is enough to rattle even the most skilled multi-tasker. With family dinners, kids’ sporting events, and household chores, life is truly a juggling act. Still, we manage to fall into the routine of getting those things done without a need to write them down. When it comes to goals, however, we are not very likely to simply fall into a routine. Achieving goals involves deviating from the daily monotony, stepping outside of your comfort zone, and challenging yourself. Writing down your goals allows you to free up some of that mental clutter so that you can visualize those things that you want to achieve. Also, tracking your progress by checking things off will give you a sense of accomplishment, motivating you to keep going. So, pull out that journal that has been collecting dust and write down those goals!

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    Avoid comparisons

    When you are working towards improving your life, it is common to compare yourself to other people. Your perception is that they are superior to you, or more privileged in some way. The social media phenomenon doesn’t help; your ‘news feed’ overflows with announcements of your friends’ new love interests, weight loss, and new jobs, quickly turning you into a green-eyed monster. How does this serve you, exactly? It doesn’t. When you compare yourself to others, you rob yourself of time you could be spending on your own self-improvement. It is also important to keep in mind that everyone’s journey is different; although we have similar destinations, our paths are often quite different. Follow your own path.

    Embrace failure

    Rich Dad Poor Dad author Robert Kiyosaki says that “successful people don’t fear failure but understand that it is necessary to learn and grow from.” Setting goals involves learning what you need to do in order to achieve personal growth. Embracing failure by seeing it as a necessary part of achieving your goals will only make you stronger and more resilient as you continue on your road to towards achieving your goals.

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    Enjoy the process

    Big success is made up of small victories. If your weight loss goal is 20 lbs, chances are that you will not lose it all at once. Still, you can celebrate your pants fitting a little looser every week. Having goals is important; however, we don’t stop living while we pursue them. Life happens while you are in the midst of seeing your dreams realized. Don’t allow your focus on the outcome to keep you from enjoying the process.

    Featured photo credit: Hannah Jacobson via unsplash.com

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