Stretch Goals are Hot... Are They Helpful?

Full stretch goals

Do "stretch" goals lead to momentum at the expense of internal customer service? Here are dangers and possible preventatives. 


'Clarity is everything – if you don't know where you're going, you’ll get lost' - Gary Vaynerchuk 

Wildly ambitious goals can skyrocket production but there are trade-offs. The story of Pixar, during the making of Toy Story 2, comes to mind. Demands were so high that several animators developed carpal tunnel. At one point an employee forgot their baby and left it in a sweltering car all day – during summer. The baby survived, but the company later addressed damage work-related stress was having on its staff. 

I‟ve seen „key competency‟ markers of performance issued and enforced like on a gulag: hitting moving quotas, steering away from all errors (at all costs), and being perfect on paper. In the desperation to push breakthroughs the individual can be lost, particularly when they‟re shredded for not hitting sky-high quotas that nobody actually hits. They live in fear of making an error and humiliating themselves or not pulling their weight. 

In performance-driven companies it will always be the most dedicated who go the extra mile. Companies such as Apple, the ambitious Google and its X unit, Boeing, 3M and Fujifilm have reported success from setting outlandish objectives and meeting them through sheer momentum. Boxers describe this as punching through the opponent and not at it. But is this method sustainable? 

Someone's has to do the work 

The Conscientious: unrealistic targets can pay off on paper in the short to medium whilst lowering morale and longer-term performance. Those who present the gilded cloth of competence shine, even though those with high „personality trait conscientiousness‟ produce the actual bulk of production. They can then become jaded or anxious about their own performance despite it being above the norm – as they say, the hardest working often feel they could work a little bit harder. 

Solution: this is represented by Price‟s Law and is the reality of any production force. 

 “The square root of a number of people in a domain do 50% of the work,” says clinical psychologist Dr Jordan Peterson. “Here‟s a nasty little law – as your company grows, incompetence grows exponentially, and competence grows linearly.” 

Try that out for a projection. If you love your superstars (probably they and some of their 

peers know who they are) you‟ll want to identity then reward them properly and facilitate their needs so they don‟t leave for new, better opportunities as you expand. 

The Creative: creative employees (with higher „trait openness‟) can become overlooked assets, hovering somewhere near the bottom rung, in most companies. This is because creative‟s do less well with rote instructions and rote assessments – they think laterally. The more innovative the company, the more valuable such staff potentially become. 

Solution: a good manager encourages and tries out some of their staff‟s ideas, without shaming inevitable failures. Yet they balance this with high standards of work ethic (as high creativity is not correlated with conscientiousness). 

The Agreeable: those higher in „personality trait agreeability‟, which is more common in females, can end up taking an inordinate share of the work. This is because people who are relatively trait disagreeable have no qualms saying no to an unfair workload. 

Solution: a good manager has the integrity and courage to be honest, and if they have trouble comprehending real work production of each employee (the numbers that don‟t get recorded onto the quota sheets) they recruit their team for brutal feedback. Does Sam always handle returns because he enjoys the role and is good at it, or because he‟s not outspoken? This is also where rotation of responsibilities comes into place, allowing different members to develop new skills and try their hand at different things. 

The Smart: there are set differences in IQ that even assiduous social reconstruction cannot flatten. To make things worse, high IQ people who also happen to have a strong work ethic (conscientiousness) will usually rise to the top of any complex hierarchy like a buoy in water. 

Solution: a good manager recognises the harsh realities of differences in abilities. They pay attention to the strengths and weaknesses of each person on their team yet provide opportunities for all to stretch their comfort zones. For example, the fast learner is given an opportunity to stretch their abilities (which requires them to be challenged – perhaps they enjoy taking the lead, teaching others, or handling complications). Generally, people are more fulfilled when working towards the limits of their capacities, whatever that may be – being overstretched or under-stretched serves no one. 

Context 


“You can be pumped as hell at $49,000 a year,” multi-millionaire/entrepreneur Gary V says, on his YouTube channel. “That's tremendous. That's the best!” 

Do stretch goals go hand-in-hand with an assumption that business success determines happiness? The most ambitious get pulled into the vortex of office culture and politics, moving up the ladder relentlessly. Others however, may honestly view work as a non-central yet important aspect of their life; they look forward most to watching football 

and being with their family at the end of the day. Their „level‟ suits them just fine and energizes them. 

I think a great manager takes the extra time to granulate targets of their staff, including: 

  • The cold, objective numbers expected day-to-day 

  • Long-term targets 

  • The individual‟s professional progression 

  • The individual‟s personal goals 
The antidote to unrealistic quotas may be clear context: “We‟re aiming big but here's the deal. We expect this – here‟s what we hope for.” 

Do you know your staff, their dreams, their defined goals? Setting the correct agenda and having a mutual understanding can let that employee focus on meeting company targets as well as what matters to them. A leader with a keen eye for context will account for differences in individual capabilities, personality strengths/weaknesses, and goals inherent even amongst their superstars and superstars in-the-making. 

Promoting individual success is incentivising, however shaming others for not matching standards may possibly fail to address individual differences. 

As somebody who is introverted I saw this tension unfold during my time working in an open-plan government office. Rather than being allowed to work I was interrupted with checks on my progress that ironically reduced my workflow. My one dream was to have space to concentrate for long, unbroken stretches. 

It‟s my belief that looking for individual strengths and quirks, as much as is practical, can lead to increased employee satisfaction and performance. Because the thing about stretching is: every rubber band has its breaking point – and each is slightly unique. 

Citations:

Stretch Goals: https://hbr.org/2017/01/the-stretch-goal-paradox
Gary V quotes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NMToGCNmzdE Jordan Peterson quotes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JoPlMU4KiGI 

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Josh@Helpy.Io

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