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Stretch goals and New Year's resolutions

Joe Benesh is a senior architect with Shive-Hattery and President + CEO of the Ingenuity Company, a strategic planning, diagramming, framework development, and design thinking consulting firm.

Every year I fall victim to the same overexuberance that accompanies resolution-setting for the New Year. A list of goals is developed and implementation ensues. Generally speaking, most of the goals are met and a few are deferred, revised, or abandoned. Progress is made. The part I struggle with most is making sure I am setting the right goals, for a number of reasons.

But how can a goal be wrong? To contrast what would obviously be an example of a bad goal (something akin to setting a goal of increasing pollution in the ocean), let’s define what would constitute considered or well-formed goals.

There are generally two types of goals: 1) a standard goal, which is defined as a goal that is able to be reached with a standard amount of effort or resource allocation, 2) a stretch goal, which is a goal that is considered very difficult given current circumstances and will require additional effort or resources to successfully achieve.

The benefit of setting standard goals is that they are clearly achievable. It is mostly a matter of putting in the time and effort to reach the goal set forth, using some form of tactical solution (see the post I did on the Snickers bar). But standard goals are not always the best goals to populate your resolutions list with, because you may not be pushing yourself to the level of success you could.

Quick wins are gratifying, but they do not build long-term engagement. After a few cycles of goals that are easily met, high performing individuals will move their baseline performance expectations up, which may lead to boredom and an atrophy of motivation if more difficult tasks are not put in place. This is where stretch goals come in to play.

By setting goals that are more difficult or even seem impossible at first, the stakes are much higher. These goals are tough, but much more satisfying in the long term. As demands increase, the expectation for performance increases, and so does the reward for accomplishing them.

Stretch goals stimulate innovation in a way that other goals may not. To accomplish a task, new processes or effort structures develop and individuals think differently about how they allocate their personal resources to maximize their impact.

When working through a project that involves stretch goals, there are a few things to remember about the process itself that makes reaching these goals different than standard goals:

  1. Higher expectations may create fear of criticism or failure in individuals or in yourself. You must eliminate this fear. Failure is expected in some form when seeking to reach a higher level of output. Welcome failures as an opportunity to improve and learn and move forward more intelligently. They truly are learning experiences.
  2. Make sure that you provide support for yourself (or your team) and give yourself time to work through mental barriers that may arise. Stretch goals are hard – hard enough sometimes to make us want to disengage or quit – but giving yourself permission to ask for help or work through an adversarial stance or mentality will ultimately improve your ability to execute the task.

As 2015 gains traction, I would encourage you (or your organization) to set a mix of different types of goals to make 2015 the most productive and innovative year you can. Overexuberance is OK as long as you find the appropriate outlet for it; setting the right goals will allow you to channel this energy in a meaningful, purposeful, and productive way.

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Comments

This is an interesting take on setting goals Joe. I think most of us don't break them down to standard and stretch goals. Quick wins can help us get started but building them into a stretch goal can lead to real progress.

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