Stop Setting Goals!

That’s the advice from Harvard Business Review blogger Peter Bregman:Goals

The authors of a Harvard Business School working paper, Goals Gone Wild, reviewed a number of research studies related to goals and concluded that the upside of goal setting has been exaggerated and the downside, the “systematic harm caused by goal setting,” has been disregarded. . . .

. . . . Here are two of the examples of goals gone wild the authors described in their paper:

  • Sears set a productivity goal for their auto repair staff of bringing in $147 for every hour of work. Did this motivate employees? Sure. It motivated them to overcharge on a companywide basis.
  • Remember the Ford Pinto? A car that ignited when it was rear-ended? The Pinto resulted in 53 deaths and many more injuries because workers omitted safety checks in pursuit of Lee Iacocca’s BHAG goal of a car that would be “under 2000 pounds and under $2,000” by 1970. . . .
  • Ken O’Brien, the former New York Jets quarterback, was throwing too many interceptions. So he was given what seemed to be a pretty reasonable goal — fewer interceptions thrown — and penalized financially for every one. It worked. He threw fewer interceptions. But only because he threw fewer passes. His overall performance suffered.

It’s practically impossible to predict the negative side effects of a goal.

Rather than fixating on goals, Bregman argues, concentrate on “areas of focus:”

A goal defines an outcome you want to achieve; an area of focus establishes activities you want to spend your time doing. A goal is a result; an area of focus is a path. A goal points to a future you intend to reach; an area of focus settles you into the present. . . .

. . . An area of focus taps into your intrinsic motivation, offers no stimulus or incentive to cheat or take unnecessary risks, leaves every positive possibility and opportunity open, and encourages collaboration while reducing corrosive competition. All while moving forward on the things you and your organization value most.

His full post is here.

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