Do your teams feel safe enough to set stretch goals?

by Marilyn Napier, Content Marketing Manager at | Mar 22, 2021

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Google researchers have found that employees on teams with higher psychological safety are less likely to leave the company, more likely to be empowered by diverse ideas from their teammates, increase revenue, and rated as effective twice as often by executives. When individuals feel safe to take risks and set ambitious goals without fear of consequences if they don’t reach them, they’re more likely to enjoy their work and succeed in their role. 

Google is famous for setting these types of goals, called “stretch goals.”

“Creating unachievable goals is tricky as it could be seen as setting a team up for failure. However, more often than not, such goals can tend to attract the best people and create the most exciting work environments,” Google writes on re:Work. 

Employees might be hesitant to set these stretch goals for fear that they won’t be able to reach them and that their performance reviews will suffer. So how do you encourage and empower your employees to set stretch goals and promote a healthy workplace culture? 

  1. Decide together what will be considered “success” for these goals. This may be only reaching 70% of the goal. 
  2. Clearly communicate that achieving these goals, or not achieving them, will not be connected to compensation conversations. 
  3. Encourage your teams to take chances and reassure them that they have your support. 

What is a stretch goal?

If you want your team to feel safe setting stretch goals, it is important to know exactly what they are first. A stretch goal is a goal that goes beyond an expected target result. It’s set with the expectation that success will be defined differently than a committed goal, and that this goal is designed to challenge employees to perhaps think differently and creatively about how to achieve the goal. Ultimately, stretch goals are designed to get employees out of their comfort zone, while still having realistic expectations about what can be accomplished. As Google puts it, stretch goals “are the building blocks for remarkable achievements in the long term.” 


Committed goal: Increase revenue by 2x next year 

Stretch goal: Increase revenue by 4x next year by entering new market 

OKRs and performance management 

When your team is setting stretch goals, it’s important to be clear about the relationship between OKRs and performance management, and how they do, and don’t work together. Remember that OKRs drive focus, create alignment, increase engagement, and establish accountability to achieve better business outcomes. Performance management focuses on employee skills and professional development, boosts morale, and evaluates employee performance against monetary rewards. 

OKRs and performance management can work together to make performance discussions actionable and more ongoing with regular check-ins, rather than an annual review. When the two are connected, managers and employees are able to celebrate accomplishments, using OKRs to provide a holistic view of all the work that’s been accomplished. 

The line gets drawn when compensation is part of the conversation. If you want your employees to set ambitious goals that they might not achieve, they need to feel comfortable to do so. A way to help them feel comfortable is to separate OKRs and compensation. OKRs can inform performance reviews, but they should not be directly determining monetary adjustments. If an employee’s stretch goal is tied to compensation, this will prevent employees from truly being able to set ambitious goals. When this happens, employees will set goals they know are in reach and will not be able to grow or push themselves professionally for fear of consequences. 

Performance management and OKRs should instead be used together to drive ongoing conversations between employees and managers to build a culture of transparency and recognition of work. 

Psychological safety and how you maintain this in a remote workplace

In a remote workplace, communication is especially important. The relationships with co-workers and managers in the office become a bit more difficult when you can’t have casual conversations in passing, or pop over to someone’s office to ask a question. Some employees may worry their professional development may suffer if they aren’t able to make those in-person connections. It’s up to managers to make sure their employees feel heard, and is important for HR and people teams to create a remote workplace culture that is inclusive and prioritizes team building and communication. 

Creating a communicative and open remote environment is crucial for employees to take chances with their stretch goals and know exactly what is expected of them. In remote workplaces, there may be more room for interpretation and miscommunication without traditional methods of communication. Setting clear objectives that are decided on by an employee and their manager is crucial for everyone to know exactly what they need to be working on, progress toward those goals, and expected outcomes. When these expectations are clear, employees can confidently stay focused on the work they need to complete to achieve their goals. 

How software and tech can help connections and the feedback process

OKR software can help everyone at your company – from executives to individual contributors – align their work to the company’s most important initiatives. When everyone in the company can easily see how their goals align to team initiatives, company initiatives, and other departments’ initiatives, there is a greater sense of purpose in how they are helping their company achieve business results. 

OKR software also encourages ongoing check-ins and conversations regarding goal progress between managers and employees. This lets managers know exactly how their employees are doing, and if they have too much, or too little, on their plate. 

An OKR program should not be run with a “set it and forget it” mentality. Part of the benefits of the goal-setting framework is the ability to have ongoing discussions about progress toward goals and make sure teams can prioritize the work that really matters. At the end of the day, when you have a work culture that is transparent and communicative, employees will have the tools and safety they need to take more chances. 



About is the goal management and business execution platform that aligns the work an entire company is doing to the outcomes that are critical to its success. It connects each individual employee’s projects and key results to the company’s most important objectives using the OKR framework. This allows teams to identify risks quickly and opportunities proactively, maintaining an orchestrated focus on their biggest priorities. The company’s comprehensive professional services offer continuous support, dedicated training, and coaching to ensure best-practices for implementation and successful change management. Since its launch in 2018, has been recognized as a G2 Crowd Leader in the OKR space, earned GeekWire’s coveted “Startup of the Year” award and was adopted by hundreds of leading organizations like BambooHR, Remitly, Ticketmaster, TripAdvisor and more. Start a free 14-day trial here. 

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