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Fuqua Faculty Conversations

Sim Sitkin

Sim Sitkin on The Stretch Goal Paradox

February 23, 2017

Discussion Video

Sim Sitkin

Join us for our February 2017 Fuqua Faculty Conversation as Sim Sitkin, Michael W. Krzyzewski University Professor, presents:

The Stretch Goal Paradox

During this video, you will learn:

  • Why stretch goals are widely used, but rarely understood
  • How to assess whether your organization is a good candidate for using stretch goals
  • Why organizations that should use stretch goals don’t and those that do shouldn’t
  • About strategically effective alternatives for organizations that should not use stretch goals

Join the conversation in the comments below or in the Fuqua alumni LinkedIn group.

Questions? Write to conversations@fuqua.duke.edu.

View Sim Sitkin’s Bio


  1. Questions: 1) Are there any significant differences in the culture of the successful and unsuccessful organizations who use stretch goals. 2) Are there any repercussions for teams that tackle stretch goals but fail in the organizations they studied. If so, what were they? If not, why not?

    • Cheryl:

      These are really good questions. There is not a lot of research that addresses them in a very specific way. So we don’t know at this point if there are key characteristics of an organization’s culture that foster the appropriate use of stretch goals (and discourage the inappropriate use). But there is good research that I would suspect might be useful for both your questions.

      Here are some ideas that draw on relevant research (though not directly on stretch goal use):

      – do we have incentive systems that are rigid and do not take into account changes in circumstance (for example, the economy crashes but you are rigidly being held to goals set before that happened)
      – do we have a culture that allows for realistic updating or trial and error learning (for example, I am pursuing a stretch goal of $60M in cost savings and achieve $58M or I took on a big challenge for the organization and it did not succeed, but we learned why and gained important skills and now can try again)
      – do we have a highly politicized culture where there is search for a scapegoat to blame for every problem and thus people hide problems
      – do we have a culture of “psychological safety” where people can be open and feel supported and developed

      These are all factors I suspect would be related to the effective use of stretch goals. They are the kinds of questions for which we need more research to be really sure about the nuances, but the general lessons are pretty clear for where stretch goals work better and also situations where a person or unit pursuing a stretch goal will be penalized if they fail.


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