Is goal setting a complete waste of time?
I read an article recently about a business owner who said setting goals and benchmarks for his business was doing more harm than good to his business. Naturally this idea intrigued me.
I was of the school of thought that setting goals and planning a strategy of action to complete those goals was considered a smart business move. That by setting goals I would be starting on a path to success. I even advised you to set goals for your businesses in the past.
In past articles I talked about reviewing your business at the end of every year to see where you exceeded and fell short on your goals.
I explained that it’s important to set goals so that you have a clear path of where you want to take your business in 2015.
All of that makes perfect sense, right?
We’ve been told since we were in grammar school about the importance of goal setting and achievement. But what if setting goals and making New Year’s resolutions is in fact bad for you and your business? What if I told you it does more harm than good.
This idea caught my attention in a big way. Anytime I read about something that I have grown up believing to be good for me, but turns out is not really fascinates me. I suppose that’s why I consider myself a contrarian.
I often find I go against the grain. I consider it a reason why I’ve been so successful in my business ventures throughout the years. If you do what everyone else is doing, you can’t expect to make a lot of money.
But getting back to this idea that setting goals is harmful… Seriously who would have thought it could be true? What harm can there be in imagining a better place you want your business or life to be at in 12 months’ time?
To examine this contrarian idea we’ve got to look at how we get to where we want to go, the path we take to achieve our goals.
Do you remember the Ford Pinto? If not, it’s probably because they haven’t been any made for over 30 years.
The Ford Pinto was a small, fuel efficient car. The idea for the car came from Ford’s CEO Lee Iacocca. Ford was losing market share to foreign competitors who offered cheaper, more efficient compact vehicles.
So in 1970 Lee gave the goal of creating a car “under 2,000 pounds and under $2,000” to his management team. To achieve that rather lofty goal employees overlooked safety checks and designed a car where the gas tank was vulnerable to explosions from rear-end collisions. Fifty-three people died and hundreds more were injured as a result.
There is also the story about department store chain Sears. In the early 1990’s Sears set sales goals for their auto repair staff to bring in $147 for every hour of work.
Rather than motivating employees to work harder and faster it prompted the staff to overcharge for services and recommend unnecessary repairs to car owners. Ultimately, Sears’ Chairman Edward Brennan was forced to acknowledge that goal setting had motivated its employees to deceive customers.
As these disasters suggest, there is in fact a harmful side to setting goals. When we set goals, we often reach them, but at what cost? Asking employees or ourselves to reach important benchmarks seems to lead to risk-taking and unethical behavior.
This isn’t limited to just the business world either. Think about how you reach goals in your personal life. You may give yourself a target of dropping 10 pounds by next month. In order to achieve that goal you go on a diet.
You plan to eat healthy meals while avoiding sugary snacks and drinks. If you are anything like me then you probably do really well for a few days, but then things start to fall apart. You might cut out breakfast so you can enjoy a few cookies. Or tell yourself you’re going to work out so this slice of pizza won’t affect your diet. Inevitably you cheat on your diet and give up when you think you’ve blown your goal.
Or think about how you get your kids to do their chores. You tell them whoever cleans their room the fastest gets a cookie. So your kids’ stuff their toys and clothes into their closets and run out to tell you their done.
But is their room really clean? No, all they’ve done is moved their mess to another area. They cheated and took the easiest route possible to meet your goal.
When we set goals, our natural reaction is to do anything and everything we can to achieve it. That includes cheating and unethical behavior in order to complete the task.
It can also lead people to ignore other areas of focus to achieve the specific goal. Ford employees disregarded safety checks in order to meet the production goal. Sears employees disregarded providing excellent customer service in order to meet the sales goal. Asking people to focus on achieving certain benchmarks can backfire very easily.
So if setting goals can bring on unintended harmful side effects to our business, what are we to do? We still need to set a course for the future and measure the progress.
The author suggested that setting benchmarks of learning and understanding are best. Instead of setting goals to make more money from your business, set a goal of learning ways or activities that can make your more profitable.
This way you or your employees assess multiple areas of the business, without neglecting and without focusing too narrowly on one path. In other words focus more on activities rather than outcomes you want to achieve.
If you want to want to lose weight look into what methods and activities can do that for you. You leave the path open to all opportunities and inhibit cheating and other harmful behaviors.
The positive side effects to this method? The author suggests that people often find themselves intrinsically motivated to work. The method creates a positive environment where people want to achieve and help in an ethical manner all on their own. They find the activities rewarding on their own and work harder, better and faster because they derive pleasure without being incentivized by outside forces.
Now that’s something to work towards.