My philosophy has always been, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you will land among the stars.” I’m a firm believer in Jim Collins’ BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals). Dreaming big builds excitement and enthusiasm that propels us into the future. It also allows the creativity to flow and generate new goals and ideas. However, there are times when big goals are simply unrealistic to the point they work against you.
Sponsors are notorious for trying to set unrealistic project deadlines. When the data comes back and says a project will take a year, they love to ask for it to be delivered in nine months. And there is nothing wrong with setting a stretch goal unless you are missing these factors:
The team’s buy-in. When asking your team to deliver on stretch goals, it’s important to gain their buy-in. In the scenario above, the project team knows the realistic goal is 12 months. If they are told to deliver the project in 9 months, the initial reaction is going to result in a dip in morale. I know this goal is unattainable, so why even try? Building the team’s support and buy-in through brain-storming and listening to their feedback can make that stretch goal more attainable. The most effective technique is showing them the “what’s in it for them.” This doesn’t necessarily mean a monetary incentive. Instead, it’s showing them how, by delivering this project and helping the organization, it translates to them and their jobs.
Sponsor/Stakeholder support. When sponsors mandate delivery dates but then do nothing to remove the obstacles, project failure results. It’s the sponsor’s duties to help make the tough decisions and then move the mountains that the project teams need moved. This shows the project team that the sponsor is just as invested and committed to the goals as the project team is.
A unified approach. If a stretch goal is going to be achieved, everyone in the department or company has to be working towards that same goal. What often happens is you have two different sponsors asking the same project delivery organization to delivery multiple stretch goals. This is a disaster waiting to happen. Now your goals are competing instead of being unified.
Having stretch goals can help a company be competitive and outperform in the market. However, these goals will end in a decline of morale and project failure if the foundation is not laid. Making sure there is a unified vision and direction is essential for delivering those tough goals.