The New Year here! with it also comes the time for us to start setting resolutions and goals. Or is it? According Peter Berman’s article and Max Bazerman’s paper, you should exercise a little more caution when setting goals for it could do more harm than good.
Goals were found to shift focus away from important but non-specified goals while promoting risk and unethical behaviors that could impact company performance. With that in mind, here are a few key points to consider when setting your goals for 2013.
Find goals the right size
There is no one size fits all for goals. Focus too much on the launch of the product and critical bugs get overlooked. Focus too much on perfection and discourage innovation among employees.
If goals are too narrow, it might draw attention away from other aspects of a task. This video demonstrates how goals can cause someone to miss out on something that will ordinarily be very obvious. This study by Barry Staw found that, by telling people to do their best, people tended to achieve better results than when specific goals were set for them.
Narrow and over specific goals discourage learning by leading employees to believe that time taken away from achieving the goal is inefficient and wasted. While the goal might indeed be important for the company, so can new innovation or process improvement.
Ever had an intern or a new hire join the company and make multiple improvements on your processes? Chances are the changes were not all that complex or complicated to implement. Instead, it is more likely that none of your existing staff had the time nor motivation to implement the change.
The time frame of a goal matters
Sell 25 units in a quarter. Sell 100 units in a year. They sound like the same thing don’t they? In actual fact they are not. While the results may be similar, shorter-term goals promote behavior which have quick results and de-emphasizes things such as research and process improvements.
Having the same goal but in a longer time frame gives room for innovation and time for long term objectives to reach fruition. Having goals that are year long makes it possible to reap the rewards of longer branding campaigns or research and development.
Focus on goals that promote behaviors you want
Most goals tend to focus on results rather than tasks. Consider the typical sales goal of hitting X targets by Y time. Goals like these might promote behavior such as, cutting customers off just because they are not promising leads, stealing high value leads from colleagues or worse underhanded dealing to boost sales figures.
Instead, consider focusing on tasks that have strong correlation with the desired outcomes. For example, instead of having a goal set for sales figures, set a goal that is related to other metrics such as response time to customers. By focusing on tasks, the desired outcome can still be achieved with less risk of negative consequence.
But… Be wary of what you incentivize
For businesses, incentives are very closely tied in with goals and KPIs . While deciding on the incentives, make sure you are rewarding the right actions.
Providing an incentive for a task, reinforces that the task is work and that might have an impact on intrinsic motivation – which is the motivation driven by interest and enjoyment. Also, by providing an incentive or setting a goal, you are effectively telling your employees to emphasize that task above others.
Goal setting is hard
Yes, that’s right. Setting goals should not be something that is done over lunch or even overnight. Finding the right metric is just the first step in setting the right goal, all the possibilities should be considered and possible pitfalls should be identified.
Goals should not be thought of a stand alone silos, but instead should be considered within the context of the company culture and employees. They should be tailored to each individual to make sure that goals are neither too hard nor too easy to achieve.
So while you are setting goals for you company this new year, take a moment to think about what kind of effects the goals might have on your company. If you are not sure what effect a goal might have on your company, err on the side of caution and set a goal that is broad with a long time frame instead of narrow with a short time frame.