Don't strive like Toyota
Canada appears to have fallen far short of its goal of "Owning the Podium" at the Vancouver Olympics. How can leaders know the difference between a "stretch" goal that inspires people to reach new heights and an unattainable goal that winds up demoralizing people?
People are demoralized when stretch goals cause an organization to stray from its productive purpose and values. This is what happened when Toyota's leaders aimed at becoming number one in market share at the expense of its focus on quality and safety.
According to a friend who is in touch with Canadians, not owning the podium is no big deal. They recognize that medals are won by fractions of seconds and what is most inspiring is seeing their athletes giving their best. They are proud of their medal winners.
But they are upset about having to pay the bill for the games including security costs, first estimated at $165 million, now thought to be $1 billion. And they are demoralized by the poor condition of the ice rink and most of all, by the death of a Georgian athlete caused by a badly designed luge and bobsled course. That course was made exceptionally fast to favor Canadians who would be able to train on it. Instead, it shamed the country.
The lesson is clear. Stretch goals are fine as long as they reinforce an organization's purpose and there is no down-side for failing to meet them. The 1980 US Olympic hockey team's goal of upsetting the heavily favored Russians and winning a gold medal was an example of such a stretch goal. If the US team had lost, no one would have blamed them. But leaders should avoid those stretch goals that put an organization at risk of losing its soul.
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