Stretch Goals: The Ultimate Guide with Tips and Examples

As a team leader, you know how important employee goal setting is when it comes to keeping your team motivated and moving in the right direction.

Most of us spend too much time focusing on attainable, realistic goals. There’s definitely a time and place for these kinds of goals. Sometimes, though, it’s better to push beyond what we think is possible, try out new approaches, and challenge your teams to achieve more.

This is where stretch goals come into play.

Read on to learn more about stretch goals and the pros and cons of this approach to setting employee goals. You’ll also find some examples and learn how to set stretch goals with the help of OKRs.

What Is a Stretch Goal?

A stretch goal or stretch objective is an innovative goal that requires a great deal of effort to accomplish. These goals are intentionally set beyond normal standards and encourage team members to push themselves beyond their perceived limits.

An essential component of the stretch goals definition is that they tolerate the possibility of not being achieved entirely or even being failed.

A team member is not a low performer if they don’t meet the expectations set by a particular stretch goal. More important for a team member is to learn from failure and set new ambitious targets based on the lessons learned. Stretch goals’ purpose is to inspire growth and prevent team members from becoming complacent. 

Stretch Goals vs Smart Goals

Stretch goals are different from many other types of goals, including SMART goals. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-based.

SMART vs stretch goals

The key difference here is the “A” in SMART goals — Achievable.

SMART goals are set with the intention of being achieved. The opposite is true of stretch goals. 

Stretch goals are meant to inspire team members to think big, push themselves beyond their comfort zone, and stretch themselves to get better at their jobs.

What Are the Benefits of Stretch Goals?

Stretch goals offer a variety of benefits to you, your team, and your business, including the following:

  • Encourages innovation, creative problem-solving, and the rethinking of current processes;
  • Increases motivation and employee engagement; 
  • Increases the business’s chances of success — even if goals aren’t met 100%, you’ll still likely get farther than you would otherwise;
  • Keeps teams aligned and encourages more collaboration to achieve stretch goals;
  • Generates more insight for team leaders and managers — and encourages better decision-making in the future.

When they’re used correctly, stretch goals will push team members, keep them focused on growth and development, and discourage them from resting on their laurels.  

What Are the Challenges of Stretch Goals?

There are plenty of benefits that come with setting stretch goals, but there are also some challenges, including these:

  • Stretch goals can sometimes be too vague or ambiguous, which may lead to a disconnect between team members and team leaders.
  • Without the necessary skills and proper training, it will be hard for team members to make meaningful progress toward achieving stretch goals — this can lead to frustration and a lack of long-term motivation. 
  • Some employees may experience a decrease in confidence when they don’t meet stretch goals.
  • These goals can cause tunnel vision and cause team members to neglect other responsibilities.
  • Some team members may resort to dubious tactics — and possibly unethical behavior — to achieve stretch goals.

The good news is that, with proper planning and careful consideration, team leaders and managers can avoid many of these challenges that are associated with stretch goals. 

How to Set Stretch Goals for Employees

Now that you understand the stretch goals meaning, let’s break down the steps you need to take to set goals like these for your employees:

Step 1. Ask Open-Ended Questions

Use open-ended questions to set small business goals that push your team beyond their perceived limits. Some examples include:

  • What is the best possible outcome for this scenario?
  • How can we bring more joy to our customers?
  • How can our company provide more value?

These kinds of questions get you thinking outside of the box and shooting for the moon.

Step 2. Use Ranges Instead of Single Points

Consider setting goals with a specific range in mind, rather than one single point. For example, you might want to increase sales by 50 to 60%, instead of setting a hard and fast goal of increasing sales by 55%.

Step 3. Encourage Autonomy

Give your team members lots of autonomy when it comes to creating a plan to accomplish stretch goals. Make yourself available to help or provide feedback, but leave space for them to be creative and innovative, too.

Step 4. Allow Enough Time

Give your team plenty of time to achieve their stretch goals — or at least make as much progress as possible. This helps to reduce the likelihood of frustration. 

Step 5. Combine Stretch Goals with OKRs

You may want to combine your stretch goals with another goal-setting methodology like OKRs (short for Objectives and Key Results). One way to do this is by making one of your Key Results (the metrics you use to measure progress toward a team objective) a stretch goal — one that you’re not sure you can achieve by a specific date.  

Combine Stretch Goals with OKRs

Step 6. Consider Available Resources

Make sure your team has to tools and resources they need to make progress toward their stretch goals. This might include investing in particular goal-setting software or giving them plenty of flexibility in their schedule so they have time to work toward it. 

Step 7. Track Progress

Tracking progress and celebrating milestones is a good way to maintain motivation and keep team members focused on their stretch goals.

If you decide to use OKRs for the stretch goals, consider using OKR software alongside them. This makes it much easier for you to track progress and helps you ensure everyone is on the same page.

Step 8. Evaluate at the End of the Quarter

At the end of the quarter, sit down with your team and evaluate how much progress you made toward your stretch goal.

Remember, it’s not a failure if the goal was met completely. Celebrate how far everyone came and how close they got to achieving it.

Stretch Goals Examples

Here are some specific employee goals examples to help you better answer the question “what are stretch goals?” and understand how they work:

  • Example 1: A rapidly growing sales team sets a goal to gain 5,000 new, qualified leads this year, which would be a significant increase from last year’s 2,500 leads.
  • Example 2: A small business aims to open a second brick-and-mortar location within the next 2 years after running 1 successful location for the last 3 years.
  • Example 3: A project manager sets a goal to increase the company’s revenue by 60% this year, compared to last year’s 30% increase.
  • Example 4: A digital marketing team wants to increase social media engagement by 50% each week after it’s been stagnant for the last 3 months.
  • Example 5: A nonprofit organization aims to raise $100,000 for a particular cause, compared to last year’s fundraiser, which generated $50,000.  
  • Example 6: A team manager wants to decrease the company’s average delivery time from 6-7 days to 3-4 days. 

Stretch goals depend on a lot of factors, including your organization’s size, market position, and the current standards for your industry as a whole. However, keeping these stretch goal examples in mind can help you determine the right stretch target for your team.

How to Set Stretch Goals with Weekdone

Goal tracking software or OKR software can be very helpful when it comes to setting team and employee goals and encouraging your team members to stretch themselves beyond their limits. 

Here are some tips that can help you get the most out of Weekdone and use OKRs in your stretch goal-setting process:

  • Start with a quarterly Objective — overarching team objectives or goals that you want to accomplish this quarter.
  • Identify 3-5 Key Results that you’ll use to measure progress toward that Objective.
  • Make sure one of those Key Results is a stretch goal.
  • Check-in weekly with your team to monitor progress toward the strategic goals of the company.
  • Measure engagement, happiness, work-life balance, etc. to ensure team members are staying motivated and not getting frustrated.
How to Set Stretch Goals with Weekdone

Here are some examples of how stretch goals for growth, sales, and marketing could look when using OKRs:

Growth stretch goal example

  • Objective: Gain skyrocketing traction on Twitter
  • KR1: Increase follower count from 15,000 to 50,000
  • KR2: Increase Twitter engagement rate from 2% to 20%
  • KR3: Increase Twitter mentions to 5,000

Sales stretch goal example

  • Objective: Make the best second impression on our leads
  • KR1: Increase the average number of second meetings booked from 20% to 50%
  • KR2: Improve email response rate from 10% to 20%
  • KR3: Capture at least 30% of lost deals from people who reply to the “why not us” survey

Marketing stretch goal example

  • Objective: Become the number one brand in our niche in our region
  • KR1: Arrange 15 media meetings
  • KR2: Hold 10 calls with relevant social media influencers
  • KR3: Arrange to speak at 10 new industry events/conferences

Final Thoughts on Stretch Objectives

Stretch goals can be described as high-risk, high-effort goals. They push your team members past their comfort zone and set new performance standards:

  • What is the difference between SMART and stretch goals? SMART goals are achievable by definition — stretch goals are not, and it’s not considered a failure to fall short of them;
  • Stretch goals are great for company goal setting because they boost motivation, encourage innovation, and increase creativity across the whole team;
  • Stretch goals also come with some challenges, though — they can cause frustration for some employees, they can create tunnel vision, and they can sometimes lead to unethical practices from employees who are too eager to achieve them;
  • Proper use of stretch goals requires smart goal planning — this includes asking open-ended questions, setting goals with target ranges instead of a single data point, giving teams enough time to accomplish their goals, combining stretch goals and strategic business objectives with OKRs;
  • Using an OKR tool or goal-setting tool like Weekdone makes it easier for teams to combine stretch goals with OKRs — this also increases motivation and employee engagement.

Those who want to learn more about OKRs and how they can be used alongside stretch goals can also check out these resources:  

Are you ready to start setting stretch goals and establish better employee performance goals? If so, set your business goals using Weekdone’s OKR software today!