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A familiar task was involved, but the target was a drastic departure from the industry standard at the time, which was close to one hour.

Brand-new paths and approaches must be found to bring a stretch goal within reach.

But in practice, stretch goals rarely work out, the authors’ research shows. When Marissa Mayer took the helm of the ailing internet giant, in 2012, she announced a number of wildly ambitious targets, including the exceptionally difficult objective of achieving double-digit annual growth.

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Mayer’s answer to this checkered performance was to bullishly proclaim that her goal was to return Yahoo to the level of the Big Four—“to bring an iconic company back to greatness.” She articulated the exceptionally difficult aim of achieving double-digit annual growth in five years and eight additional highly challenging targets.

By the summer of 2016, Mayer had fallen far short on six of the eight targets—and on the goal of double-digit growth.

And many executives set far too many stretch goals.

In the past five years, for example, Tesla failed to meet more than 20 of founder Elon Musk’s ambitious projections and missed half of them by nearly a year, according to the So it’s perhaps not a surprise that the market reacted with skepticism when Musk declared in early 2016 that Tesla would produce half a million cars in 2018—two years ahead of the previously announced lightning-fast schedule—and would double that volume by 2020.

Whereas the companies that could benefit from pushing themselves—those with strong recent performance records and resources to spare—avoid stretch goals, because success has made them risk-averse. Yahoo’s annual revenues had dropped from $7.2 billion to $4.9 billion in the previous four years, employees were demoralized, and the culture was far from vibrant.

When Marissa Mayer was named CEO of Yahoo, in July 2012, the media couldn’t get enough of her candid assessments of the ailing company’s strengths and weaknesses—and her ambitious goals to put the internet giant back on track. In short, Yahoo had been on an extended losing streak.

Failures can foster employee fear and helplessness, kill motivation, and ultimately damage performance.

So, before launching stretch goals in sales, production, quality, or any other realm, how can you be confident that your grand aspirations will trigger positive attitudes and actions rather than negative ones?

When facing radically out-of-the-box opportunities or threats, you can’t just rely on intuition.

You need clear guidelines for assessing and addressing risk.

That brought an unceremonious end to Mayer’s bold plans.

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