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Goals – be aware of downsides

Conventional wisdom is that having goals is the key to success and that the SMARTer (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time bound) the goals are the better.

But there is an alternative view, supported by research, which suggests that there can be negative consequences from having goals.

  1. Goals can be limiting if interpreted by those responsible for their achievement as being a boundary or a limit. Once the goal is achieved there can be a tendency to sit back and admire the achievement rather than striving to achieve greater things !
  2. Goals tend to be static. They are fixed for a period of time and may not be reviewed in a timely fashion when circumstances change.
  3. Goals can cause stress for certain personality types (or everybody!) and this reduces employees ability to perform on the job. Not everybody is motivated by goals.
  4. Goals can constrain creativity. If an organisation is fixated by the achievement of goals it may miss greater opportunities.
  5. Goals can have unintended consequences. A constant challenge for sales organisations is achieving hard € sales targets while at the same time not compromising softer objectives such as the need to perform as a team and the maintenance of customer relationships.
  6. Goals can be set too soon, before there is a picture of what success looks like. In the early stages of a business, in particular,  it may be better to focus on developing a sense of purpose and a vision rather than set specific goals before enough is known about the market opportunity.
  7. Goals can undermine management credibility if viewed by staff as unachievable or just part of an annual tick box exercise. This will also be the case if there is no monitoring of progress towards achievement of goals.
  8. Achievement of goals can lead to a sense of complacency that all is well in the camp, when there are fundamental issues beneath the surface that are not being picked up by the organisations goals.

It is the time of year when businesses are involved in planning for 2015, out of which goals for the year, will naturally emerge, hence this blog.

I am not suggesting that there should be no organisational or individual goals, rather that there should be an awareness of potential downsides in the goal setting process, which should inform how goals are positioned in the organisation.

Not every initiative should have a specific goal – alignment with the company vision may be enough.

Remember goals are no more than a tool to realise the company vision and not an end in themselves.

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