Friday, July 11, 2014

The Folly of Managers vis-a-vis Stretch Goals

(image credit)

At the start of the football season last year, well-known Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said his team was going to the Super Bowl.  Many analysts and fans alike scoffed at the idea, especially at a team quarterbacked by the oft-maligned Tony Romo.  The fact is, it is tough for any team in any sport to rise above all the rest and win a championship.  Truth be told, the Cowboys were among the least likely to do so last year.  Sure enough, that was the case.

But hold on a minute:  If the owner doesn't believe in a big, hairy, audacious goal for his team, who is going to?  I say, he has every right to believe that, and moreover it is an imperative that he does so.  I say, hooray to Jerry Jones!  

It is in this context that I recommend, but cautiously so, Daniel Markovitz's blog in Harvard Business Review - The Folly of Stretch Goals.  Indeed managers who like Jones are inclined to BHAGs, must attend mindfully to the impact of such goals on their staff and must be exquisitely watchful for unethical, overly risky behavior among themselves and their staff.
Focusing on small wins in combination with process improvement will drive your organization forward without the negative consequences of stretch goals. However, this approach requires a willingness to abandon the “ready, fire, aim” approach to problem solving. The heavy lifting has to be done at the outset — a deep understanding of the current condition is a prerequisite for true improvement. This approach also requires a subtle — but critical — shift in focus from improving outcome metrics to improving the process by which those outcomes are achieved.
This is sound advice from Markovitz.  Another manager I knew motivated his staff well around BHAGs, but was virtually clueless about how he and his staff could actually get there.  The caution on his article, though, is this:  It is less about the folly of stretch goals, and more about the folly of managers who are rather inept around stretch goals.  The latter of course would be a more cumbersome, thus less attractive title.  But I hope the article, titled and written as such, do not necessarily dissuade managers and staff from setting BHAGs.

Where would Apple, Amazon and Google be, after all, if their founders were to have played it modestly?

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

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