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4 Principles For Setting Stretch Goals
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By Robert Hargrove

* The principle of aspiration: "Who do we want to be?" We each have personal aspirations and a desire to excel. Our aspirations are often embedded in the work that we do in groups, organizations, and communities. For example, we may want to be part of a group that comes up with a landmark biotechnology medicine or part of a group that is known for the highest quality or outstanding service. Yet, oftentimes, the bar of excellence is too low to release the collective aspirations of the group or to inspire people to bring their whole selves to work. The role of the coach is to inspire people to raise the bar of excellence. Creating a stretch goal is one way to release the collective aspirations of the group and inspire extraordinary levels of commitment from the individual. The examples of the Apollo moon landing and 3M bear this out.

* The principle of lever: "How do we apply our resources so they can make the biggest difference?" One of the defining characteristics of a stretch goal is that it is something that, while exciting, seems difficult or almost impossible to achieve. As mentioned, for the goal to be a stretch, it should create a deliberate mismatch between the group's aspirations and ambitions and its present knowledge and resources. This means that to achieve the goal, people need to learn to get more out of what they have. One of the functions of a coach is to help people do just that. This not only applies to deriving more from material resources, but to tapping the hidden reserve of creativity and effectiveness that is usually available in any group. When you create a deliberate mismatch between what needs to be achieved and what people already think and know, you force people to think outside the box and to move beyond the limits of their existing paradigms.

* The principle of convergence: "What can we create together?" There is an old Greek saying: "Alone we can be great; together we can be greater." Stretch goals allow people to come together to create something larger than themselves. The coach's role is often to act as a steward in this process of convergence. It helps if the group is a natural group with a common calling, like wanting to design and implement a learning approach rather than a bureaucratic one. It also helps if each person has something to contribute that makes the group more powerful.


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