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The Paradox of Stretch Goals: Organizations in Pursuit of the Seemingly Impossible

Academy of Management Review, Vol. 36, No. 3, pp. 544–566, July 2011

23 Pages Posted: 28 Oct 2010 Last revised: 3 Aug 2011

Sim B. Sitkin

Duke University-Fuqua School of Business

Kelly E. See

New York University - Department of Management and Organizations

C. Chet Miller

Wake Forest University - Babcock Graduate School of Management

Michael Lawless

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Andrew Carton

Duke University - Fuqua School of Business

Date Written: October 26, 2010

Abstract

We investigate the organizational pursuit of seemingly impossible goals - commonly known as stretch goals. Building from our analysis of the mechanisms through which stretch goals could influence organizational learning and performance, we offer a contingency framework evaluating which organizations are positioned to benefit from such extreme goals, and which are most likely to pursue them. We conclude that stretch goals are, paradoxically, most seductive for organizations that can least afford the risks associated with them.

Keywords: organizational learning, performance, organizational goals, stretch goals, organizational cognition, exploratory search, change, innovation, risk taking

JEL Classification: A10, D2, D23, D83, L2, L20, L21, M1, M10, M14

Suggested Citation

Sitkin, Sim B. and See, Kelly E. and Miller, C. Chet and Lawless, Michael and Carton, Andrew, The Paradox of Stretch Goals: Organizations in Pursuit of the Seemingly Impossible (October 26, 2010). Academy of Management Review, Vol. 36, No. 3, pp. 544–566, July 2011. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1698304

Sim B. Sitkin (Contact Author)

Duke University-Fuqua School of Business ( email )

Box 90120
Durham, NC 27708-0120
United States
919-660-7946 (Phone)

Kelly E. See

New York University - Department of Management and Organizations ( email )

44 West 4th Street
New York, NY 10012
United States

C. Chet Miller

Wake Forest University - Babcock Graduate School of Management ( email )

P.O. Box 7659
Winston-Salem, NC 27109-7659
United States

Michael Lawless

affiliation not provided to SSRN ( email )

Andrew Carton

Duke University - Fuqua School of Business ( email )

Box 90120
Durham, NC 27708-0120
United States

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