Have you ever had a goal that you thought was unattainable? How’d you feel? Demoralized is the word that comes to mind. Yet companies continue to set what they call "stretch goals" thinking that if they set the target slightly out of the reach of an employee, employees will miraculously muster up the energy to hit these targets.

This sort of thinking is entirely wrong. If you’re like most people, you look at a task that seems like a stretch and think, "I stand a better chance of reaching the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro than I do scaling this goal. Why bust my butt on something I know is out of my reach?"

Here’s what to do instead.

Ask employees to set their own goals.

When people are asked to set their own goals, most will make their targets more challenging than what you as a leader might have set.

What they come up with is a good starting point for discussion concerning expectations going forward. If need be, together you can adjust the goals to ensure they are realistic and obtainable.

Challenge employees to challenge themselves.

Sometimes employees have no idea what they are capable of until it’s pointed out to them. For example, I had no idea I was qualified to present in front of large groups until my boss asked me to do so at a company meeting. He said that he noticed that people listened carefully whenever I spoke. With his encouragement, I agreed and went on to talk at large industry conferences.

Sometimes all it takes is a little reassurance for people to stretch themselves. And when they do, they’re willing to go even further the next time they’re asked to do so.

Set achievable goals.

In some organizations, it’s still up to the boss to set goals on behalf of team members. This is especially true in sales organizations. When establishing goals, make sure they are achievable.

For example, setting a target for a team member to hit quotas that are 25 percent higher than last year may be a bit too ambitious, especially if the individual fell short of hitting their target numbers the year prior.

What if you suggested to this employee that you temporarily lower the bar and work more closely together to help him achieve his target? As part of this conversation, the two of you could agree to adjust the bar slightly higher the following quarter.

By doing so, you and the employee would be well-positioned to determine if this person is merely a slow-starter or in the wrong job altogether.

Keep the end goal in mind.

Too often, leaders lose sight of the real reason for goal setting. Establishing goals is not solely about paying out bonuses or setting compensation targets. It’s about helping employees determine how to add value to the organization, while also achieving personal goals.

This process, when done well, can also help employees stay motivated while remaining on track.