I was recently forwarded a very good article and research project that comes from faculty at U of Arizona, U of Pennsylvania, Northwestern U, and Harvard. The specific faculty involved in the project include Lisa Ordonex, Maurice Schweitzer, Adam Galinsky, and Max Bazerman. This project, entitled “Goals Gone Wild: The Systematic Side Effects of Over-Prescribing Goal Setting”, was tweeted to me by Mr. Arie Goldshlager. I won’t do the research complete justice by summing it up, but the basics of the research suggest that goal setting can be dangerous to organizations. The research highlights a few particular times this might happen, such as when goals are to challenging, when they carry an inappropriate deadline, when they are to focused, or when there are just flat out to many of them.
It’s really a great research project that defines well the pitfalls of goal setting. I hardly think, though, that it should be a deterrent to those of us that are using goals to advance our ideas and organizations. Goal setting, as it is well outlined in this research, is a powerful tool. Any powerful tool can be used inappropriately and cause unwanted effects. Proper goal setting requires the proper safety equipment.
1. Culture: Your Hard Hat
If there is anything that can blindside you, its unethical behavior. It can come from left field, and knock out your efforts. A solid culture will protect you from the dishonest behavior you can encounter with goal setting. I worked in sales for five years, and there is nothing that can cause more dishonest behavior than sales quotas. You must develop your people and your culture around what it is that you value in order to steer clear of these types of reactions. Protect yourself with a solid and well guided culture.
2. Vision: Your Safety Goggles
Great goal setting needs to be paired with solid vision and direction. If your vision is impaired, your goals will take you places you don’t need to go. Start with a quality vision of where the organization needs to be, then set goals against it.
3. Leadership: Your Steal Toed Boots
If goals are a destination, leadership is going to take you there. Developing quality leadership will help you insure that your organization is moving forward, one step at a time, at the proper pace. If you run to hard, you can fall…. and shoot yourself in the foot….
The fact is America as a whole does not currently suffer from an epidemic of goal setting and goal attainment. We more often suffer from being distracted and unfocused. Though Thrive preaches goal setting, we also preach culture development, leadership development, and proper organizational design. Why? Because these all play to the same end, and balance each other. You can set all the goals in the world, but without quality leadership and proper culture you won’t attain a single one of them.
Progress needs leadership, culture, vision, and goals. This research very correctly points out the pitfalls of goals, further advancing the idea that goals are a powerful tool. When it comes to advancing ideas, goals are the most powerful tool available to you. Just be sure you bring your safety equipment to work.