Maximize YOU!– Develop Your Stretch Goal!

September 25, 2010

Want to maximize your success in whatever you are doing? Want to have the best professional career you can? You need to start by trying to discover what “success” means today. In essence, you need a goal. Even better, you need to take responsibility to realize that goal. You need to start thinking like you are the CEO of something!

In my last “Maximizing You!” post, I wrote about acquiring the mindset of becoming the CEO of something. Are you the CEO of something? If you are truly acquiring the mindset of being the CEO, the next step to maximizing your success is to set a clear goal. Even better, you need a stretch goal.

Before you set your best stretch goal; however, you really need to consider your company context, for the more you understand your company’s aspirations, strategies, strategic goals, and current quarterly goals, the more you can align your stretch goal to what the senior management team and board is focused on right now. Ideally, your company has communicated and reinforced its aspirations (mission, vision, values), strategies, and goals and they are already clear to you. Even better, you were already given a clear stretch goal that aligns with what the company is trying to achieve.

More likely, this context is not in place or clear, which may be the case in companies that are at the earlier stage of development. If this is the case, you must develop the understanding on your own. Most companies are pretty poor with this type of thing (even as they go through the expansion stage), but you can still try to get some context by asking the people around you (closest to senior level as you can find) what the company is trying to achieve and how they think you can best help the company achieve its goals. Some conversations should ferret out some good context for you so you can work on your own goal.


In my experience, most people think they understand the concept of goals, but it is actually more complex than they realize. As a result, I offer a few ideas for you to ponder as you determine your own goal(s):

Ideally, you have an ongoing sense of the milestones necessary to achieve your vision and you turned the milestones into a series of goals (that are aligned, but differ based on time horizon)- As the CEO of something, you should really possess a vision for a better future and take individual responsibility for its realization. Your vision might encompass part of your company’s vision or you may create it on your own. In essence, your vision is your longest term goal.

Creating a vision for a better future is difficult for many people and often requires a lot of thinking before the thoughts gel. If your vision is unclear, mull over this idea for a few days and ask your team for help. With some effort, you can develop a clear vision for the future, one you can make happen. If you are still experiencing difficulty, simply think about the shorter-term outcome you are trying to achieve and you can use this as your vision.

Your vision is your longest term goal, for you will not achieve your vision in one step, but rather over an extended period of time (measured in weeks or months and sometimes possibly years). Once you possess a vision, you should craft a goal that is shorter-term in nature yet aligns with your vision. In other words, what do you need to accomplish in the shorter-term that will become the best milestone for achieving your vision? For example, your vision might include happy customers writing nice thank-you e-mails after they receive your customer service. A shorter term goal might look like a position where you can resolve any issue while they wait on the phone. The basic idea is that your shorter-term goal will help you reach your long term vision.

Once you lay claim to your shorter-term goal, you can exercise the same process to obtain an even shorter term goal (note that to some extent, you may need to do some problem solving and/or use your intuition or acquire help from others to get clear on the right goal). For example, you might determine you will be in a better position to resolve any customer service issue while the customer is on the phone if you possess an internal knowledgebase of answers. Therefore, creating an internal knowledgebase may define your shortest term goal. Here is another possibility: you simply may not know key solutions for answering calls while the customer is on the phone, so your shorter-term goal could involve hiring an outside expert to help identify the operating changes you need to perform.

You can repeat this process as many times you think is necessary until you acquire the shortest term goals you can accomplish in a short period of time (like this week or even today!). Hopefully, you see how you can think back from the ultimate vision to arrive at a point where you know your short-term goal and also how it fits into your other goals and longer-term vision.

Ideally, your goals have clarity. The best goals include a clearly articulated definition of “done” so that it is clear to both you and everyone around you what you are aiming to achieve. One great approach is to use S.M.A.R.T. goals, which you can learn more about here. Regardless of your approach, it is important to make your goals clear so anyone around you can measure your success, for this will really help you to stay objective and on a clear path toward accomplishing them.

Ideally, your goals will create some positive creative stress. If you set goals too easy to obtain, you are likely to achieve them but they will not make a large impact. If you set goals impossible to achieve, you might not engage in a meaningful way (“the goal is impossible, so why bother”). The best goals are stretch goals, ones you believe are achievable but will also require real work, creativity, and perhaps some help and a little luck to achieve. Setting goals at this level will help you to focus on them and unlock some innate creativity that might generate new ideas you would not have discovered if you set a lower bar.

Ideally, you will change your goals over time (for the right reasons!) as you start executing. In the process of setting your goals, you started with a vision and then used logic, intuition, and some outside help to hypothesize the shorter-term goals that would help you to realize your ultimate vision. Of course, the world is not perfect and you are not a perfect predictor of the world, so as you start executing you will develop a much better understanding of how to start the process of realizing your vision and as a result, the “path” will become clearer. As the path becomes clearer, you should adjust your goals to align with your revised path (i.e., your goals are milestones along the path to achieving your vision).

As you start executing, you will discover many of your seemingly good ideas do not actually work in practice. You may also discover realizing the vision is actually more complicated than you originally thought.

How do you address these issues? Adjust your goals! You can still keep the longer term vision, but perhaps some of the intermediate goals need adjustment as you encounter more about the world and figure out better ways to realize your longer term vision.

Exercise care that you do not give up too early. Remember to change your goals only for the right reasons. To ensure you are acting correctly in this process, pull in some trusted advisors and stakeholders into a conversation, walk them through your logic, and listen to their thoughts. Ask yourself once again if you are really taking responsibility or if you are falling into one of the responsibility traps.

If you tracked my approach so far, you possess the mindset of the CEO and have your goals. In my next post on “Maximizing YOU!,” I will discuss stoking your passion, which is your fuel for success!

Founder & Partner

As the founder of OpenView, Scott focuses on distinctive business models and products that uniquely address a meaningful market pain point. This includes a broad interest in application and infrastructure companies, and businesses that are addressing the next generation of technology, including SaaS, cloud computing, mobile platforms, storage, networking, IT tools, and development tools.