View All Articles

Why Stretch Goals Make Bad Strategic Objectives

Strategic Planning Expert Robert Bradford

Strategic Planning Expert Robert Bradford

By Robert W. Bradford, President & CEO

This is my fifth post on bad strategic objectives.  In my first post, I discussed a test to tell whether an objective you set for your organization is truly strategic.  By now, I’ve also highlighted four common types of non-strategic objectives, the incremental objective , the accounting objective, the lead brick objective and the world peace objective.  Today, we’ll take a look at one more very common type – the stretch objective.

We hear all kinds of people extolling the virtues of “stretch objectives” – people who tell us to “shoot for the moon, because even if you miss you’ll be among the stars”.  In some cases, this advice can be truly useful.  In most strategic planning situations, instead of ending up “among the stars”, you’re more likely to end up lost in space without any air.

Why is the stretch objective a problem in strategic planning?  First, in strategic planning, we are explicitly creating a plan of what we will do in the future.  The credibility of the plan itself is vital – and stretch objectives encourage us to depart the sensible world of the possible for the la-la land of the unlikely.  Second, good strategy requires that we carefully match our intentions with our resources – and the stretch objective inclination pushes us to ignore the realism required for good resource planning.  Finally, stretch objectives create a feeling that your planning and execution have failed even in cases where you have achieved quite a bit.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t consider audacious objectives – but rather that there is a place for audacity, but that objective-setting is not that place.  Remember, your strategic objectives are the crucial link between your strategy and execution.  One of the key transitions we need to make when shifting from strategy to execution is the transition from thinking of possibilities to thinking of realities.  A good, audacious objective will connect possibilities with reality, and force your thinking into an action plan that delivers a substantial, but realistic result.  By way of contrast, many stretch objectives will cause people responsible for execution to throw up their hands in despair and not even consider execution.

If you face the temptation – or the pressure – to include stretch objectives in your strategic planning, how do you handle it?  A well-thought out, disciplined strategic planning process can be a vital tool in assuring your objectives are both strategic and realistic.

If setting good objectives is hampering your execution of your strategic plan, you might also want to consider re-thinking your strategic planning process.  A great starting point to this would be to attend one of our popular Simplified Strategic Planning seminars.  Click here for more information.

To improve the execution of your strategic plan, download an archived version of the webinar Strategy Execution: Path to Profitablity.  Click here.

Robert Bradford is President/CEO of the Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc.  He can be reached at rbradford@cssp.com.
© Copyright 2014 by Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, Inc., Ann Arbor, MI — Reprint permission granted with full attribution.