Unrealistic Goals VS Stretch Goals: What Makes Them Different?

Nov 02, 2022
Unrealistic Goals VS Stretch Goals: What Makes Them Different?

What Are OKRs?

Objectives and Key Results — popularly known as OKRs — are an objective-setting framework used to align individuals and teams around shared goals, measure outcomes, and motivate employees. 

What Are Unrealistic Goals?

Unrealistic goals center around wishes or hopes rather than what is achievable. These goals are not attainable, doable, or practical. 

Although they sound promising, you can barely achieve them whether due to a lack of resources, personnel, or know-how.

Organizations that set unrealistic goals oppose the fundamental principles of OKR, which emphasizes the importance of setting goals based on the team or individual’s potential or available resources.

If you set an unrealistic goal because of the remarkable results you hope to achieve, you may have to utilize more resources over time. 

Most times, organizations keep working towards an unrealistic goal even when it’s obvious it won’t yield the desired results because they can’t recover the money spent. Hence, these goals are expensive, illogical, and time-consuming.

Furthermore, failure to meet an unrealistic goal leads to disappointment, frustration, shattered confidence, and unhealthy relationships.

What Are Stretch Goals?

Stretch goals or Challenging goals are high-effort and high-risk goals set above the regular standards to attract experience, opportunities, and exponential rewards. 

In other words, they challenge or stretch your team beyond their comfort zone to achieve difficult goals.

These goals help you to test your team’s limits, improve their abilities, and build trust. While stretch goals demand that your team bring more to the table, they are not unattainable.

In addition, setting these goals will help you enhance your methods and discover new frameworks that yield desired results. 

Unrealistic Goals and Stretch Goals: What Is The Difference?

Unrealistic goals and Stretch goals have something in common — they are both goals. However, they possess specific differences that can help you tell them apart. 

Here are the differences:

  • Stretch goals are ambitious, while unrealistic goals are extremely ambitious.
  • Stretch goals help you maximize available resources and team efforts, while unrealistic goals overly demand more from your available resources and team.
  • Stretch goals produce results, while unrealistic goals don’t produce desired results.
  • Stretch goals require a level of dedication within your reach, while unrealistic goals require a level of dedication beyond your reach.

How To Differentiate Between an Unrealistic and a Challenging Goal

First, you need to consider your current capability. This will help you determine if the goal is logical or illogical. 

If it doesn’t come across as logical after you consider your available resources and the ability of the individuals on your team, it means one thing — the goal is unrealistic.

Secondly, the set timeframe creates a world of difference between an unrealistic and a challenging goal. 

Due to your present capability, you can only achieve certain goals within a longer timeframe. Trying to drive your team or resources toward achieving this goal in a short time would be unrealistic.

For instance, you may know that you’re able to improve your organization’s customer acquisition rate by 20% within one month because the personnel and resources needed to bring this goal to life already exist. In this case, all you need to do is encourage your employees or team members to do more. Now, that is a challenging goal.

On the other hand, improving customer acquisition by 100% in one month would be classified as an unrealistic goal if you don’t possess the capabilities required to pull it off.

Thirdly, it is always best to set goals using reference points in your industry. If an organization with similar resources to yours has achieved a goal before, it means the goal is attainable, although it would be challenging. 

However, if the goal hasn’t been achieved by anyone before, there is a high chance that it is an unrealistic goal. This means you may need more resources, personnel, or time to hit it.

While you can set goals that others have never achieved before, you must ensure they are stretch goals, not unrealistic goals.


Unrealistic goals set you and your team up for failure, leading to disappointment and regret.  In contrast, stretch goals help you and your team achieve greater success. 

That said, you can’t achieve your stretch goals without effective planning and tracking. This is why it is advisable to use OKR resources and tools, as they can help you set challenging but achievable goals and measure your progress as you and your team move closer to the desired results.

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