Goals gone wild

When the Pinto was rear-ended, it often went up in flames. This can happen in a number of ways — such as the safety shortcuts at Ford or the bilking of auto-repair customers at Sears. To the contrary, ambitious goal setting has become endemic in American business practice and scholarship over the last half-century.

Goals Gone Wild: The Systematic Side Effects of Over-Prescribing Goal Setting

For example, workers tend to lose their focus on learning new skills in favor of using tried-and-true methods to meet their quotas. The reverse side of this practice is that employees also have a tendency to ease up when goal horizons are set too low.

This lesson, however, has not been absorbed by corporate America.

‘Goals Gone Wild’: How Goal Setting Can Lead to Disaster

One famous case that Schweitzer and his co-authors relate is the storied collapse of the energy-trading giant Enron. The irony, says Schweitzer, is that a lot of this specific goal setting is unnecessary.

Their work appears in the February issue of the Academy of Management Perspectives. Indeed, the allegations in the classroom are quite similar to the problems that Schweitzer and his colleagues found in the business world.

But these goals can crowd out intrinsic motivation, so they will need more goals to motivate them in the future. Goals that are too specific often lead employees to develop such a narrow focus that they fail to recognize obvious problems unrelated to the target.

Workers with highly specific and ambitious targets will engage in risky practices in order to meet them. They get the promotion, and that makes them happy for a time. Unethical behavior is one of the more obvious pitfalls of overly ambitious goal setting, with potentially some of the most catastrophic consequences.

They refer to the well-known example of managers who are pressured to meet quarterly earnings goals, causing them to ignore long-term strategic problems. Likewise, too many goals have what the authors consider an inappropriate time horizon.

Fiery rear-end crashes caused 53 deaths, numerous injuries and a string of costly lawsuits. There have also been several scandals involving falsified test scores and other forms of cheating.

Research has shown that employees have a stronger intrinsic motivation to do a good job than their managers tend to give them credit for. In addition, companies that set targets for individual workers can create a culture of competition in which workers tend to shun teamwork in problem solving.

The bank aggressively pursued new loan customers and even bought packages of high-risk mortgages from smaller banks, which eventually caused Continental Illinois to fail.

Arguably the best-known example is the federal education program known as No Child Left Behind that was enacted in ; it links government aid to highly specific performance targets for students based upon standardized test scores.

According to the authors, highly specific goals may cause workers to sacrifice safety for speed — as in the case of the Ford Pinto — or pursue misguided end results, as was the case at Enron.

Indeed, executives and business experts in those cases frequently failed to realize the prominent role that overly ambitious targets played in causing the eventual problem.

It is very difficult to monitor education, and this program narrows the focus of teachers in a domain that requires cooperation, innovation, broad thinking, high ethical standards and, we would hope, intrinsic motivation. The best-known example of this problem comes from the U.

Bazerman from the Harvard Business School. The rush to roll out the Pinto had lethal consequences. Faced for the first time with competition from low-cost, high-mileage foreign imports, Iacocca set a specific target: The paper cites a study of New York City cabdrivers who found that on rainy days, taxis tended to disappear from the congested streets because drivers met their fare target early in the day and went home, rather than working longer hours to make additional income.

What resulted was a mad dash to create the Ford Pinto. To us, our work is interesting and meaningful, but we tend to think that other people come to work because of money.

Critics of No Child Left Behind say the program forces teachers to focus narrowly on what will be asked on those tests, ignoring other critical skills.

In practice, many domains are ill suited for goal setting.

Goals Gone Wild

They also make the case that much more research — and more skepticism — is needed about the practice of goal setting. Schweitzer and his co-authors identify a series of problems that they say are linked to the overuse of goal setting, especially when the targets are either too specific or too challenging.

When things go wrong — for example, following the collapse of an Enron — we tend to blame specific individuals rather than look at the broader culture established by top managers. It was a valuable lesson about the hazards of setting goals.Goals Gone Wild!

and millions of other books are available for Amazon Kindle. Learn more Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App.5/5(5).

It was a valuable lesson about the hazards of setting goals. In pursuit of such mandates, employees will ignore sound business practices, risk the company’s reputation and violate ethical standards. Goals Gone Wild authors state, “The goal of setting the right goals is itself a challenging affair (p.

14).” I encourage you to approach this year and your goals with less hurriedness, more appreciation for each step (even the steps back because learning) and to maintain curiosity for the evolution and expansion of the possibilities. Goals Gone Wild: The Systematic Side Effects of Over-Prescribing Goal Setting.

The latest Tweets from GoalsGoneWild (@Goals_Gone_Wild). football of all varieties. drift into music and politics from time to time.

still owe money to the money I. Goals Gone Wild 5 setting (Latham & Locke, ), we argue that the harmful side effects of goal setting are far more serious and systematic than prior work has acknowledged.

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Goals gone wild
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