Stretch Goals: Reckless or Right-On?

As many of you know, I’ve been training for my first full marathon, and the culmination of my efforts happened this past weekend.

As insanely rewarding as it was to finally toe the finish line, one of the most gratifying things for me has been the actual process. As I’ve worked my way toward the big day, I have taken great pleasure, at the end of energizing long runs and miserable short ones alike, in grabbing my red sharpie to put a big “X” over each and every completed workout on my training plan. With the notable exception of a vacation and a short injury-related hiatus, I was faithful to my training plan since January. It gives me great pleasure to look at that calendar and see all those “X’s” that motivated me and held me accountable to my Big Hairy Audacious Goal of going the 26.2 distance.

As much as I am a fan of setting and following through with those BHAG’s, in a recent Harvard Business Review blog network post, “The Folly of Stretch Goals” Daniel Markovitz had an interesting take on what he referred to throughout as “stretch goals” – akin to my BHAG’s.

He asserts that stretch goals have the opposite effect of what I addressed above – sapping the goal-setter of energy and motivation when they are perceived as too big, too impossible. He goes so far as to say that stretch goals may actually foster dangerous behavior and excessive risk-taking (using famous examples like Enron and its exec bonuses). Instead of positive motivators, such bonuses could be characterized as rotten carrots that only motivated unethical behavior.

He suggests, instead, focusing on the small wins.

I, however, refuse to throw my BHAG’s out the window. The post DOES serve as a reminder that we must get the basics down first – and those basics include discipline and consistency.

Enact your own calendar.

Establish a plan.

Make a list.

Place an “X” over each milestone or accomplishment.

Those “X’s” vividly demonstrate your progress toward that BHAG. It makes that goal seem so much more achievable and, as you see that progress, you’ll be less likely to act against plan or do anything to jeopardize that goal.

Don’t take yourself out of the race – be it an actual footrace or a race to the top of your organization.

As long as you manage the “stretch” goal, it’s really not a stretch at all.

The little, yet diligent, fulfillment of steps and daily tasks or milestones all add up. Before you realize it, you’ll be at the goal that, perhaps from the outset, seemed like a pipe dream.

Instead of being counterproductive, reckless or foolish, I see those BHAG’s and stretch goals as positive challenges.

As long as you stick to your plan, measure your progress, and rinse and repeat, your BHAG will be within reach.

Happy goal-getting!









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