Published on September 25, 2018

The Good and the Bad of Motivating Your Team with Stretch Goals

The Good and the Bad of Motivating Your Team with Stretch Goals

You may have heard of “big hairy audacious goals”[1] that are supposed to light a fire under your team and produce miracles.

If failed, these stretch goals become chained weights on the self confidence of your team. They demotivate and cause hefty stress. However, if successful, profits will soar and your team will take greater pride in their work. The potential return on investment is huge.

The name of the game is risk. Not the military conquest board game, but the idea of going big or going home.

Stretch goals can seem daunting and overbearing. If made too ambitious, they are impossible. If made too easy, they’re meaningless.

There is a careful balance required to create stretch goals that will motivate your team and propel your business.

The good of stretch goals

Stretch goals inspire you to dream big and reach new heights.[2] You can take risks and come out with new business processes, profitable verticals, or greater customer satisfaction. The possibilities are endless because the goal is to break out of your comfort zone.

DaVita, an already very successful company in the health industry, was able to go from $60 million to $80 million in savings within four years by creating such a stretch goal.[3] You can break limits and defy seemingly impenetrable borders.

Already successful companies with uncommitted resources are recommended to set stretch goals. Employees have high morale and are excited to accomplish more.

Motivation is key for stretch goals because they are naturally daunting. They are also often costly. They will require more people, time and effort than a regular goal would.

You can’t keep putting in the same investment and expect a magically larger return. Having uncommitted resources means you’re ready to put your money where your mouth is.


The bad of stretch goals

As with all goals, you are not guaranteed success. If your team does not reach the goal, they are more likely to become heavily demotivated, fixated on unhealthy risks, and prone to lying about their actual results.[4]

In 2013, Wells Fargo set a big hairy audacious stretch goal that backfired as stressed out sales representatives opened 3.5 million fraudulent accounts. Such unethical behavior due to stretch goals isn’t uncommon according to the Harvard Business Review.[5]

As mentioned above, if you’re not riding recent success and don’t have uncommitted resources, stretch goals may not be for you. Your employees don’t have high morale. They will struggle when you tell them that you’re going to accomplish an even bigger goal, after having just failed to meet a smaller one.

Without the extra resources to accomplish it, the desired results just aren’t feasible. If you have one factor, but not the other, a stretch goal is still risky. Your uncommitted resources could probably be put to better use until your company has better morale.

If they have high morale, but you don’t have the resources, then ride off of that morale until the resources accumulate. Don’t push your business in ways it isn’t ready for.

How to set good stretch goals

You’re motivated to create a stretch goal. Now, how do you create that goal and share your motivation? There are five crucial steps to follow:

1. Evaluate the past

Before setting any goal, deep reflection is required.

What are the current strengths and weaknesses of your company or team? How have they responded to goals in the past? What motivates them? What demotivates them?

This is an important moment to decide how you will carry out your plan. Stretch goals will only work for you with the correct types and amounts of motivation.

So what does your team need to succeed?


2. Focus on the why

If you’re setting a stretch goal, you obviously have a reason for doing so. What is the expected outcome? What is the motivation for achieving that outcome? Make these answers clear to your employees.

If they understand the overarching vision, they will be more inspired to contribute their efforts. It’s the difference between the feeling of doing busy work and the drive of accomplishing a mission.

Create a poster that they can see every day and remember what they’re striving for. Revisit this often with your team to continually spur motivation.

Take a moment to make sure that your goal is aligned with your overarching goals. Sometimes we can get caught up in a great idea, but it doesn’t actually directly impact our high goals.

Pay attention to your company’s mission and vision. If your company needs more awareness or sales, this stretch goal should directly contribute to that.

3. To achieve stretch goals, set SMART goals

For those unfamiliar with SMART goals, it is an acronym for Specific Measurable Achievable Realistic Timebound goals. By focusing on these features during goal-setting, you can make sure that your goals are clear and reasonable.

This is important not only for you as a manager, but for your employees. Even though stretch goals ask you to venture into the unknown to accomplish unprecedented success, they can be combined with SMART goals to make them more achievable.

An example of a SMART goal versus a stretch goal might look like the following:

Susan will read the seventh Harry Potter book by the end of this month

To contrast that with a stretch goal, a stretch goal might look like this:


Susan will read the whole Harry Potter series

A stretch goal can sound unreasonable until it has structure to it. By using the qualities of a SMART goal, a stretch goal can become much likely to be accomplished. For example:

Susan will read one Harry Potter book a month, until she has completed the series by the end of this year

With some easy additions to the goal, we have set a clear course for Susan to reach her stretch goal.

Setting a course with deadlines and holding specific individuals or teams accountable is what makes a stretch goal SMART.

4. Do something novel

You’ll never hit a stretch goal by doing the same work you did before. Increased effort is certainly helpful, but perhaps there are new ways to solve problems. Work smarter, not harder.

You can start by interviewing employees and current clients to find common pain points. As you gather information, look for ways to increase productivity, effectiveness, and management.

You may need to diagram, track and improves processes. You might start A/B testing your website or email outreach for conversion rate optimization (CRO). Perhaps your company needs a sales rewards program or some other form of motivation.

The possibilities are close to endless. You’ll need some creative problem solvers combined with revealing analytics to find new avenues for success.

Just don’t make any risky changes without the research to back it up. What sounds cool to you might not sound cool to a diverse population of millions. Just remember how Pepsi failed with its ad featuring Kendall Jenner.[6] The amount of money they spent on that single ad shows how much of a success they expected it to be. Unfortunately for them, the response was severely negative.


Again, vet your ideas with analytics and studies. Great ideas are born out of hard work and effort. This means that many of your initial ideas may need to be tweaked before they are ready to be accomplished.

Likewise, if team members have ideas that you initially would like to dismiss, maybe you should take the time to see if they are really worth something.

5. Ride the success

To ride the success of reaching your stretch goals, you’ll first need to tell your team and company. Show how proud you are!

If there is a lot to show off from each team member, you can try putting it all into a collage maker. This form of commemoration will help inspire them towards continued success. Then, continue to make goals. If you’re not moving forward, you’re slipping backward.

And if they fail

Stretch goals lead to both failure and success. You cannot be guaranteed success every time you set a goal. But the purpose of goals is to give us a new sense of purpose and direction. They inspire us to achieve more than in the past. Stretch goals challenge us to exit our comfort zones and find new areas for profitability. If met with failure, rally the troops and evaluate what went both wrong and right. Learn from the mistakes. Move forward and march on towards new success. As a leader, your goal is always motivation.

Final thoughts

Best of luck in creating goals and motivating your team to accomplish them!

Remember that there is no silver bullet for every problem. Find the right path for your company or team and own it.

With the right mix of ingredients, stretch goals will be in your reach with success soon to follow.

Featured photo credit: Pascal Swier via


More by this author

Christina Sanders

Digital Marketing at Lucidpress

19 Ways to Improve Creative Thinking Skills in the Workplace The Good and the Bad of Motivating Your Team with Stretch Goals How to Write Great Meeting Minutes So Nothing Gets Lost in Translation 17 Note-Taking Tips That Will Transform How You Retain Info

Trending in Smartcut

1 7 Natural (And Highly Effective) Ways to Improve Memory 2 How to Ask for Help When You Need It Most 3 Do You Have to Give Everything Up to Get a Fresh Start? 4 You’ll Only Live Your Best Life Once You Step Out 5 There Is More to Life Than  ____________

Read Next


Last Updated on October 17, 2018

7 Natural (And Highly Effective) Ways to Improve Memory

7 Natural (And Highly Effective) Ways to Improve Memory

How is your memory? Is your cognitive function as strong as you’d like it to be?

If not, then you’re definitely going to be interested in the memory improvement tips I’ll be sharing with you in this article.

Despite what you might think – or have been told – improving your ability to recall information is certainly possible. You just need to know the right ways to do it. (Don’t worry, as you won’t need to make any significant lifestyle changes.)

So how to improve memory? Let’s dive straight into the first of seven easy ways to improve your memory significantly.

1. Meditate

We live in a world of non-stop, 24/7 information. It’s like a waterfall that’s endlessly pouring news, data, facts and figures into our conscious minds.

Unfortunately, our brains are not designed to absorb this tremendous amount of information. It’s no wonder then, that most people struggle to remember information and recall things.

Even if you believe you have a good memory and are comfortable with multi-tasking, you’ll also be aware that there’s only so much information your brain can process at one time. And research suggests that the more information and distractions, the harder it is for you to transfer information to your long-term memory.[1]

Fortunately, meditation can help you out.

Even if you just meditate for 10 minutes per day, you’ll boost your ability to focus, which in turn, will make it easier for you to remember important facts.

If you need help in shifting into a meditative state, I recommend trying an app like Headspace – which can assist you to achieve this in a convenient and structured way.

And don’t forget, meditation doesn’t just have to be closing your eyes and sitting in a lotus position. Some people prefer to simply take a short walk in nature. This clears and calms their mind, and still provides the all-important boost to their focus.

2. Get plenty of sleep

If you’re sleep deprived or have not been sleeping well, then I’m guessing you’re not remembering well either. This is because sleep and memory are intimately connected.

If you have a busy life and regularly find yourself not getting enough sleep, then this will negatively impact your cognitive abilities – including your memory.

How much sleep should you be getting?


Well, according to the National Sleep Foundation, you need a minimum of seven to nine hours of sleep per night. If you get this amount of sleep regularly, then within just a few days, you’ll see a tangible improvement to your ability to remember and recall things.

Now, I’ll be honest with you, maintaining a proper sleep cycle is not always easy (especially when the latest Netflix series has just been released!). But if you care about improving your short-term and long-term ability to remember things, then it’s critical that you try to get at least the recommended amount of sleep every night.

Are there ways to hack the sleep cycle?

Yes, there are.

Try these three things:

  • Have a fixed bedtime (preferably before 10pm)
  • Don’t eat too late
  • Make sure your bedroom is as dark as possible

Sleeping is a precious activity. It regenerates your body, clears your mind, and helps with the storing and retrieval of information.

However, don’t sleep just yet, as I want to tell you about another great way to increase memory…

3. Challenge your brain

When was the last time you challenged your brain?

I don’t mean challenged in the sense of overeating or undersleeping. I’m referring to stretching your mental capabilities through things like crossword puzzles, Sudoku and memory games.

To expand your memory bank, and to make your recall razor-sharp, you need to continually challenge your brain.

Feedback from Lifehack readers such as yourself, has suggested that brain training apps are a super-effective way of doing this. Used regularly, these apps can enhance your focus, attention span, problem-thinking ability and memory.

There are hundreds of these apps available (most of them for free), but I recommend starting out with one of the big three:

  • Peak (Android/iOS, free, 10 million+ downloads)
  • Lumosity (Android/iOS, free, 10 million+ downloads)
  • Elevate (Android/iOS, free, 5 million+ downloads)

If you normally spend a chunk of your week playing computer games, then instead of shooting and killing your enemies, why not let some of them live – while you put your attention into boosting your brain power!

Challenging your brain will strengthen your neural pathways and enhance your mental abilities. But don’t just take my word for it, try one of the apps above and see the positive benefits for yourself.


4. Take more breaks

When I think back to my days as a budding entrepreneur, I distinctively remember working all the hours under the sun – and many under the moon too!

At that time, I believed that breaks were for the weak, and to become wealthy and successful, I needed to shed blood, sweat and tears.

However, I was wrong.

Taking regular breaks is the best way to keep yourself productive, creative and alive to opportunities. It’s also the best way to learn new information.

Let me explain.

Typically, when studying lots of new information, most people will spend hours reading it – in an attempt to learn and remember the content as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, they’ve overlooked something.

Namely, extended study sessions are rarely a good thing, as your ability to retain information naturally declines after a certain period of time.

It’s similar to physical exercise. You wouldn’t attempt to train vigorously for four hours in a row. Instead, you’d take regular breaks to give your lungs, heart and muscles adequate time to recover. Failing to do this will result in muscle cramps and overexertion.

It’s the same with your brain. If you overload it with information, you’ll suffer from mental fatigue.

What’s the answer?

Make sure you take regular breaks when learning new information. I recommend at least a 10-minute break every hour. (You may also want to take a look at the Pomodoro Method.)

If you don’t want to be as regimented as that, then take breaks as soon as you find yourself losing the ability to focus on the new material. Your brain will thank you – and your learning aptitude will move up a level.

5. Learn a new skill

I love this quote, as it’s 100% true – but frequently overlooked:

“Learning never exhausts the mind.” – Leonardo da Vinci

From my experience of helping to develop the careers of dozens of Lifehack employees, I can definitively say that participating in meaningful and purposeful activities stimulates the mind. It also reduces stress and enhances health and well-being.

Let me give you an example of this:

Imagine you work for a global financial institution in one of their call centers. You take over 100 calls a day – many of them complaints. When you started the job a few months back, you were excited to be in full-time employment and working for a household name.

Unfortunately, your initial enthusiasm quickly turned into frustration.

The endless complaint calls began to take their toll on you. And the supervisors irritated you too, as they were far too interested in micro-managing you – rather than letting you work in your own way.

Now, in the story above, the ending could be that you put up with a job you didn’t like, and led a dull and frustrated working life for years and years. However, an alternative ending is this: you channeled your dissatisfaction in to learning a new skill (computer coding). It took you a year or two to get up to speed, but it allowed you to successfully upgrade your career – and the ongoing learning made the call centre job much more bearable.

Clearly, learning new skills gives you impetus, focus and something to aim for. Your brain loves to learn, and you should tap into this by always seeking our new information. And when learning becomes a habit, you’ll find your ability to remember and recall things effortlessly, becomes a habit too.

6. Start working out

If you’re not already working out regularly, then here’s another reason to do so:

Exercising for 20-30 minutes three times a week will improve your long-term memory.

Regular exercise increases blood flow in your body and supplies the brain with extra oxygen and nutrients. And a well-nourished brain is a well-functioning brain!

“But I just don’t have the time?,” I hear you say.

Not a problem.

A research has shown that a daily burst of 60 seconds of high-intensity exercise, offered many of the benefits of the longer exercise routines.[2] So, if you’re short on time – now you know what to do.

Interested in getting started?


Here are five different ways that will help you work out:

  • Join a gym
  • Join a sports team
  • Buy a bike
  • Take up hiking
  • Dance to your favorite music

7. Eat healthier foods

I’m sure you’ve heard the expression: “You are what you eat.”

This applies to your brain too.

The food that you eat helps determine your brain’s capacity to store and recall information. A poor diet (think junk food + soda!) harms not just your physical health, but your mental health too.

Fortunately, there are several foods that are especially good for your brain and your memory. These include: blueberries, celery and dark chocolate. But anything high in antioxidants will have a positive effect on your brain and memory.

Conversely, highly-processed foods and those loaded with sugar will have a negative impact on your memory. This is due to them providing insufficient nutrients for your brain – leading you to easily suffer from mental fatigue.

Want to be mentally healthy? Then eat and drink an abundance of these for brain health:

  • Turmeric – helps new brain cells grown
  • Broccoli – protects the brain against damage
  • Nuts – improves memory
  • Green tea – enhances brain performance, memory and focus[3]
  • Fish oilfish oil supplements can increase your brain power

Here’re more brain food options that improve memory!

Final thoughts

I sincerely hope these seven memory boosting ways that I’ve covered in this article will be of help to you.

You don’t need to implement them all. I suggest just trying the ones that appeal to you.

But, if you’re serious about dramatically improving your memory, then make a start right now on adopting one or more of the ways I’ve suggested. I’m confident you won’t regret it.

Featured photo credit: Eric Ward via


Read Next