01 December 2009

The Harmful Effects of Goal Setting

I believe in setting goals. I believe that the future of any endeavor is determined by the goal that is set today. But goal setting is not a guarantee of success, because the final outcome is only as good as the goal itself. So I would like to explore the harmful effects of organizational goal setting in this post. (In future posts, I will happily comment on the positive aspects of goal setting.)

Goal setting can cause myopia.
When the flight towards goal achievement is inflexible, the changing landscape around the goals may be ignored. Worse, the goal may be achieved but the cost of such achievement may be higher than the actual gain from the goal's success.

Goal setting can disable the team effort.
When goals become too individualized and personalized, the team effort may be dismantled to service the needs of the goal seeking individual.

Goal setting can demotivate.
The intent of setting goals is to harness motivation, but when the goal itself is faulty-- ie. beyond the means of the individual, or malaligned with the reality of the situation in which the goal is being pursued, actual achievement of the goal may lead to a loss of the individual's motivation, or worse, trust in the process of goal setting itself.

So what should be done to avoid the deleterious effects of goals setting gone wrong?

a) Goals setting should be seen as the map, not the terrain. In whatever process is pursued towards achieving a goal, there needs to be a reasonable and flexible method for making revisions/ modifications to ensure that the goals remain relevant.

b) When goal setting is part of a formal process of evaluation in an organization, it is imperative that the HR department, or some entity that is objectively distant, review the goals to identify any conflicts of interest, overlap or otherwise find malalignment in the goal achievement effort.

c) Further, it is necessary that the HR department, or some other objective entity, see to it that the goals that are set are reasonable in scope and nature and that the individual otherwise have the means to achieve the stated goal.

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Having been involved in HR work as a consultant and internal manager for over 10 years, both in the US and Japan, this blog will be my forum for putting forth ideas, opinions and questions for debate regarding international HR issues.