By sidestepping the pitfalls, will success be yours when you set a stretch goal? Results can virtually be guaranteed, but only if "you have first won the hearts and minds of your workers. When they are on board with the goal--they agree that it is important and can be done--you really will get dramatic improvement," vows Roche.
How to win this commitment? Level with your people about why the goal is critical. Tell your workers about big gains made by competitors, the more stringent demands imposed by customers, or whatever it is that necessitates a jump forward. Make the case clearly, and your employees will get the message that this goal is crucial--and they will join the pursuit.
What if your team still falls short? The better question is: How close did they come? If you've set a stretch goal that's way out there and some team members fall a bit short, this is no time for long faces. They all have triumphed, even if they didn't go the full distance.
Then, too, "ask yourself why they came up short," says Crown. "Did environmental factors hinder their efforts? Did the behaviors of other employees impede their progress? Were the goals clearly communicated in the first place?" She suggests using these occasions as opportunities to conduct a post-mortem analysis that avoids blame and instead searches for ways to improve so that next time, the goal is achieved.
If they have triumphed, however, "incentives are called for," says Vlcek. "Incentives don't have to be expensive, but you want to acknowledge the workers' terrific efforts." With what? At Domino's, Vlcek sat in on many meetings of franchise operators with store employees and, he says, "I saw lots and lots of $25 to $50 incentives passed out to workers who achieved stretch goals. A gift certificate for dinner for two at a fancy restaurant can be a big treat. Little incentives really can fire up employees."
When the party's over, should you announce a new, bigger stretch goal? First, know the danger: Do this, and it's easy for workers to see themselves as nothing more than cogs in a wheel spun by a never-satisfied management. Big auto makers found themselves viewed in that light a few years ago, and the upshot was worker slowdowns, coupled, in a few cases, with intentional sabotage of cars on the assembly line. "You can easily create a `management keeps doing this to us' attitude among your workers," warns Crown.
But, she adds, in the right, deft management hands, "you can keep ratcheting up stretch goals. In an organization where there's lots of communication, plenty of openness and trust, you can do it--if you can persuade the workers there are good business reasons for the new goals."
"Set big goals, and you can really bring your workers to life. They'll surprise you," says Roche. "As long as you have their hearts and minds, stretch goals can keep working magic."
Robert McGarvey writes on business psychology and management topics for several national publications. To reach him online with your questions or ideas, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.