Everyone is familiar with goals and setting goals, but what about stretch goals? Stretch goals push and inspire people to accomplish things they might not have thought possible.

Research shows students actually perform better than others when they are expected to do so. This concept is played out in a scene* from the movie Facing the Giant. A football coach challenges one of his players to the “Death Crawl” drill (crawling on all fours while carrying another player on his back). The drill is set up for the player to crawl 10 to 20 yards. The coach tells the player that he wants to challenge him to go 50 yards. The player balks at this idea, and the coach responds, “I think you can go 50 yards with someone on your back, but no matter how far you make it – I want you to give me your absolute best!” Before the player starts the drill, the coach blindfolds him and says, “I don’t want you to stop when you think you’ve done enough; I want you to go until you absolutely can’t go any further.” The player starts the drill with the coach pushing, encouraging, and continually telling the player to keep going just a little bit further. Finally, the player collapses, totally exhausted. Out of breath, he mutters “That’s got to be at least 50 yards.” When the coach removes the blindfold, the player discovers he has made it all the way to the other end zone! He didn’t think he could make it 50 yards let alone the entire length of the football field!

It is truly astonishing what we can accomplish given the right circumstances. Here are five principles to keep in mind when setting stretch goals:

  1. Stretch goals are called “stretch” because they are very difficult to meet. If the standard is easy to achieve, it’s not a stretch goal.
  2. Stretch goals are not goals people are required or expected to meet. No one should be punished or criticized for not meeting a stretch goal.
  3. Performance against stretch targets can affect other parts of the organization. If employees become more efficient or increase output, they’ll change something about the business process. Know the upstream and downstream impacts of changing employee behavior.
  4. If people are not given the knowledge, tools, and means to meet stretch goals, the effects can be disastrous. If the goal cannot be met because of lack of support, it has the opposite effect on motivation, productivity, and teamwork.
  5. Risk-taking should be encouraged and rewarded, even if it fails. Remember, there’s no penalty for failing to meet a stretch goal. But go one step further and reinforce the impulse to try. For example, one company builds failure expectations into performance reviews – they expect one significant slip-up per year.

Stretch goals are a powerful tool when executed properly. They enable people and organizations to reach new heights. Remember what Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.”

*Click link to see a clip of the movie scene: Death Crawl and Death Crawl 1