Published on May 24, 2022
Over the past decades, Google has popularized OKRs as a goal-setting framework. Among their philosophies, is one about setting ambitious goals - “Great is just not good enough.”
We see being great at something as a starting point, not an endpoint. We set ourselves goals we know we can’t reach yet, because we know that by stretching to meet them we can get further than we expected.
This philosophy is later reflected in Google’s OKR methodology with moonshot goals, also known as stretch goals.
More than 50 years ago, U.S. President John F. Kennedy captured the world’s imagination when he said, “This nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” And thus, the term moonshot entered the lexicon as shorthand for “a difficult or expensive task, the outcome of which is expected to have great significance.”
Moonshot is a high goal that is nowhere easy to achieve, and its seeming impossibility is what motivates the entire team to raise difficult questions, challenge the status quo, and find creative solutions. Trying to achieve such goals broadens the team's understanding of what's possible, and what's not.
The analogy of moonshot, or stretch goals, is the same as the one of stretching in gymnastics. It seems uncomfortable at first since you know you can hardly reach somewhat past your knees, let alone the floor. Nonetheless, you keep going, and with time, you're able to reach lower and lower until you eventually reach the floor. Ambitious objectives are designed to act in the same way.
Moonshots play the keystone role in the “future-back” approach to strategy. At the heart of this approach is the consensus view of your company’s desired future state - specifying what you want your core business to look like, what market you want to edge into and the moonshots you are aiming for.
As Kennedy did, a good future-back strategy aims further than the span of a three-year plan.
So what does it take to craft a good moonshot? There are three ingredients you need to fulfill.
Kennedy’s goal clearly created an inspiration for a whole country, and look at where it has landed us thus far.
A moonshot, no matter how far you are aiming, is not an absurd goal. People cannot get motivated by something they don’t believe in. A moonshot, though far, must have a fair probability of success.
A moonshot should offer a meaningful break from the past. The path towards it can consist of smaller goals that are hard but more achievable, known as roofshots, or SMART goals. However, the moonshot should not be viewed as a straightforward projection of current events.
People illustrations by Storyset
To find these three ingredients for a good moonshot, first, let’s start by asking these open-minded questions:
Now that you have gathered enough information to focus on your moonshots, follow these tips below to increase your chances of selecting meaningful targets.
Use ranges for goals, not fixed time
Set metrics as ranges, not single points. Range-set goals help reduce employee anxiety and provide them options on how to tackle the moonshot, as well as giving higher-ups and teams room to stretch their performance with less pressure.
Allow autonomy for teams and employees
It is up to the leader to establish the goals, but it is better to leave it up to your teammates to find out how to carry the task out and achieve the goal. This makes them feel free to use their unique knowledge and skills in creative approaches.
Break your moonshots into roofshots
Moonshots are excellent as long-term objectives, and as starter points in the company strategy. To hit the bullseye, break it down into smaller SMART goals and tasks.
Give your team a shot at success by allowing enough time to tackle the stretch goal, including slack time for trials and errors.
No matter where, and how far you aim, make sure that your moonshot will help to organize and measure the best of your employees' energy and skills. Most importantly, make sure that every employee understands which moon you're aiming towards. To learn more about whether you should aim for moonshots or roofshots, check out our other articles in this series of OKR.