Goals trap!!! Be careful when your boss establish performance goals…
Hi guys, 2013 is here now, so first of all, I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all a successful New Year! I hope you had a relaxing time with your families and friends. During my Christmas holidays I read a great book – “Drive”. It made me think about what really motivates us. Part of the book talks about goal setting, which I think is a perfect topic for my first post in 2013. As it is the beginning of the year, I am pretty sure that soon most of us will have this “popular” meeting with the management to define our goals for the next six months. But is this really a good thing? Let’s dig a bit more into it…
How many of you heard that goals must be SMART? Do you actually think it is a good definition for goals? SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-scaled. An example of a Specific goal for a company could be increasing the market share, as compared to a rather general goal of becoming more profitable. In order to see if an objective was achieved, we must make it Measurable by attaching a number to it, for example, to increase the market share by 3%. Objectives must be Achievable, which means that the company capabilities and the market environment should allow them to come true. Realistic means that objectives must be within the company’s reach, to expect an employee to become next Freddy Mercury might be a bit too ambitious :). The last one, Time-scaled, means that an objective must be attached to a time-frame, for example, in 12 months you will sit down with your boss again and see if you reached your targets. Are you familiar with this definition? Do you agree with this approach? Let’s see what some studies proved regarding this topic.
According to the studies discussed in the “Drive”, goals tend to narrow our focus. This does not sound too bad, right? After all, it is good to be focused in order to stay concentrated on a specific task and not get distracted by secondary aspects. However, in reality this is good only for activities that use the left part of the brain, i.e. for simple tasks that do not require creativity. But, as Daniel warns in his book, for complex and conceptual tasks giving a specific and measurable objective can blinker the wide-ranging thinking that is necessary to come up with an innovative solution. For example, if someone has a target to increase the revenue by 5%, they will draw a plan to achieve a 5% growth and no more. Consider that if they did not have that specific growth number, most probably they would think of many different ways of achieving growth, and most probably they would increase the revenue by more than 5%.
Another problem with specific and measurable goals, in my opinion, is that reaching them becomes the only thing that matters. Some people would prefer shortcuts to get there, even if it means making ethical compromises. On a larger scale, this may cause systematic problems for the organization: unethical behavior, increased risk taking, cooperation between the teams may deteriorate because it is not that unusual that the teams get conflicting goals that might be the source of inter team tension, and last but not least, general motivation might decline.
“Give a manager a target and he will do everything to achieve it. Even if he has to destroy the company in the process” by W. Edwards Deming
Personal goals that people set for achieving mastery are usually healthy. But goals imposed by others, such as sales targets, quarterly returns, standardized test scores, etc. can, at times, have detrimental side effects. Therefore, you must be careful when you set goals in your organization. Please, do not take me wrong, I believe we must have a direction, a company goal, in order to know where we are heading. But I really am skeptical about the SMART model. What do you think about this model? Let me know your opinion :)