Stretch organisations, not people

Posted by Bo Pedersen
on February 13, 2019

There is a lot of talk about the value (or not) of stretch goals.

Practiced and preached for decades, stretch goals are not new.

However, in our experience, we see an emerging misunderstanding of what stretching means, and how to achieve stretch performance.

Work harder, work smarter. 

If you average output is 80 units per day, working 8 hour days, then two obvious ways to improve performance include:

  • Increase output per hour (work smarter)
  • Increase amount of working time (work harder)

Let’s say we can increase both by 20%. The results are easy to calculate:

  • Old output / hour: 10
  • Old hours worked: 8

Old Weekly Output: 80

  • New output / hour: 12
  • New hours worked: 9

New Weekly Output: 108

Awesome, I’m killing it, growing output by 35%! Boom!

Chasing marginal returns

But what happens after this first cycle of improvements? I could possibly commit to working even longer hours, but presumably not without reducing productivity.

I can and I will of course keep looking for ways to work smarter all the time, perhaps we can automate parts of the process, while specialising and improving elsewhere.

With effort, insight and experience, every process can be improved, but over time the marginal returns are going to decrease.

Stretch the organisation instead

Instead of chasing ever smaller marginal returns for individual stretch goals, try stretching the organisation instead.

How do you stretch an organisation?

Embrace your FATE – Focus, Alignment, Transparency, Engagement

Focus – define and communicate what matters to the whole organisation. When people know what’s most important to the organisation, they can start to make better decisions about how to spend their time to support the organisational goals.

Alignment – let every team align themselves with the company goals. How precisely the alignment is defined is less important than actually defining it. Every team should  be able to answer the question: “How will you help the company achieve its goals?”

Transparency – Share everything. Company goals, team objectives, key results, initiatives, tasks, etc. Give every employee clear visibility of company goals, team objectives, including regular progress updates.

Engagement – Encourage and enable active participation at every level of the organisation. While not everyone needs to own an objective, give them the ability to contribute, provide feedback, comment, and provide support, coaching in a way which recognises their value as an individual.

The result? 

Now instead of chasing marginal returns from individual performance improvements, the organisation as a whole is stretching.

Your employees are focused on what matters most, teams are aligned to contribute in relevant and meaningful ways, progress is shared actively with all employees, and employees are committed and engaged.

Now you’re stretching.