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Goal setting Pros and Cons

Overwhelming research demonstrates that goal setting has a powerful influence on individual performance and motivation.

Goals are potentially energising and motivating. Challenging goals lead to higher levels of effort. Deadlines lead to more rapid rates of work and  making a ‘public’ commitment to a goal, recorded in writing, enhances personal commitment to its achievement.

But there are real problems with goal setting, unless sensibly applied:

  • Goals may focus the employees’ attention too narrowly, overlooking other important features. Jobs are more than a bunch of individual tasks. So, for example, helping a colleague to solve a problem or inducting a new employee can be difficult to frame as a goal.
  • Challenging goals may result in people ‘giving up’ as they see no point in trying.
  • Excessively challenging goals may shift attitudes to risk taking and promote unethical behavior.
  • Failure to achieve goals has psychological costs and can be demotivating.
  • Goal setting is more effective in Results part of job than Behaviors

KEY MESSAGE: Goals are only one important aspect of the job.

If you are looking to identify goals, the following is a useful list of potential sources:

  • Where can things be done Faster/Cheaper/Better?
  • Company Vision, job descriptions, business goals
  • What do you want to Achieve?
  • What do you want to Preserve?
  • What do you want to Avoid?
  • What do you want to Eliminate?

Goals should include anticipated Outcomes and Measures.

The following points should be borne in mind when goal setting:

  • That a goal can be SMART but not wise! Is it the right goal?
  • It can be useful to prioritize goals, so that high priority areas receive the greatest attention.
  • Don’t set too many goals for each individual – say, max of 3/5.
  • Set the goal based on business need not the capability of the individual so that there is a real comparison between individuals doing the same job.


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