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The Darker Side of Goal Setting: Why Goal Setting Fails ...

Beware the Misuse of Goal Setting

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Why don't most people set and achieve personal goals, career goals and business goals? Goal setting is a positive, powerful practice when it ignites enthusiasm and provides clear direction.

When practiced poorly, however, goal setting also has a serious downside which can undermine your success. Poor goal setting makes people cynical, wastes their time and fosters confusion about where to concentrate actions and energy. How does such a potentially successful practice as goal setting, go wrong, so often?

If you’ve read my work for any length of time, you know that I am a proponent of setting goals and measuring your progress in achieving them. A recent exchange with William Hamilton, President of TechSmith Corporation, and several other executive managers (who wish to remain anonymous) reminded me that goal setting, executed poorly, thoughtlessly, or for the wrong reasons, can have a significant negative impact on both people and your organization business plan.

Avoid these five misuses of a potentially positive, powerful practice: goal setting for personal goals, career goals and business goals.

Just Do It: The Art of Intimidation

Organizations often fail to achieve goals and strategic planning targets that are set top down, by executives who lack crucial information and are out of touch with staff challenges. The goals are unrealistic and they fail to consider organization resources and capabilities. Staff members don't believe that the rewards they will receive for goal accomplishment will equal the energy they invest to achieve them. Frequently, managers are intimidated when they fear job loss for failure.

A former Siebel Systems executive says, "My favorite goal setting story of all time was how Siebel set sales goals for its District Managers: everyone's quota was $3.5 million. There, no more thought needed to go into it, no discussion - just do it or you're fired! So the District Manager calling on Citibank had the same quota as the District Manager calling on the States of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Guess which guy got fired?

"I also remember how I used to spend the last day of every sales quarter at Siebel performing unnatural acts to close business and save my job. At the end of the year, I had to work until 10:00 p.m. on the last day of the sales quarter (while we had company over at home) to get one last deal closed. This deal saved my job. I was one of two state and local district managers that avoided the axe two weeks later."

Goals Intended to Impress, Not Guide Efforts

William Hamilton says, "During the roaring, crazy days of the dot.com nineties, using goals to impress was common place, although organizations also utilized this technique long before the Internet arrived. In this process, management creates goals based on the desire to impress or mislead outside groups."

According to Hamilton, this process is, “also used to avoid serious analysis of the company and the marketplace. At the end of the time period, these goals can then be used by senior management to pass the buck and the blame for the failure to meet the goals.

"To internal staff members, who were often unconvinced and unmoved by the unrealistic, 'show goals,' senior management’s actions produced serious morale and competency-questioning issues. To staff members who bought into the euphoria, failure to achieve the goals was a deadly downward spiral."

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