ENGLISH FOR FLUENCY
ARTICLE: GOAL SETTING
1. Do you set goals for yourself?
2. How important is goal setting to achieve your target?
3. Can you achieve your goals by yourself (intrinsic rewards) or need outside stimulus (extrinsic rewards)?
4. Name three intrinsic rewards:
5) Name three extrinsic rewards:
6) Can you think of some disadvantages of setting goals?
7) How do you cope with the pressure of having to achieve a specific goal? What may happen if you do whatever it takes to do so?
8) Tick the sentences that are true for you:
• Ambitious goal setting has become endemic in American business practice over the last half century.
• Goal setting is widely considered to be a powerful way to motivate employees and boost their productivity.
• Employees perform better when challenged to meet specific targets as opposed to asking them to simply "do their best.
• Monthly targets were set for sales assistants. Such move caused many lay-offs and consequently led to a high staff turnover.
• Goals that are too specific often lead employees to develop such a narrow focus that they fail to recognize obvious problems unrelated to the target.
• Research has shown that employees have a stronger intrinsic motivation to do a good job than their managers tend to give them credit for.
• People may be motivated by goals. But these goals can crowd out intrinsic motivation, so they will need more goals to motivate them in the future.
Why setting performance targets can backfire
Managers everywhere love to set targets for their staff. Budgeting and planning meetings set financial and non-financial goals at a corporate level, as well as “stretch goals” for individual units. These targets are then translated into personal goals that senior executives and other employees are expected to achieve.
Ambitious goal setting has become endemic in American business practice over the last half century.
Such goal setting is widely considered to be a powerful way to motivate employees and boost their productivity. But some management researchers have given warning recently that the practice can have disastrous consequences which are often ignored by executives. A new paper* in the Academy of Management Perspectives notes that goal setting is widely considered to be “a benign treatment” for improving corporate performance when in fact it is medication that should be used with great care because of its potentially harmful side-effects causing more harm than good.
The authors found that goal setting has become practically institutionalized in American corporations, backed up by a persuasive body of literature over four decades arguing that employees perform better when challenged to meet specific targets as opposed to asking them to simply "do their best."
One well-known example took place at Sears, which in the early 1990s set a specific sales target for its auto repair staff of $147 per hour. In order to meet management's goal, however, mechanics began to perform unnecessary repairs or overcharge customers, which triggered a major customer-relations crisis for the giant retailer. Edward Brennan, chairman of Sears at the time, later admitted that the "goal setting process for service advisers created an environment where mistakes did occur." The same problem happened at the sales department, where monthly targets were set for sales assistants. Such move caused many lay-offs and consequently led to a high staff turnover.
Why does this happen? Schweitzer and his co-authors identify a series of problems that they say are linked to the overuse of goal setting, especially when the targets are either too specific or too challenging. For example:
* Goals that are too specific often lead employees to develop such a narrow focus that they fail to recognize obvious problems unrelated to the target. According to the authors, highly specific goals may cause workers to sacrifice safety for speed--as in the case of the Ford Pinto--or pursue misguided end results, as was the case at Enron. A typical problem is the sacrifice of quality in the interest of quantity, they note.
* Likewise, too many goals have what the authors consider an inappropriate time horizon. They refer to the well-known example of managers who are pressured to meet quarterly earnings goals, causing them to ignore long-term strategic problems. The reverse side of this practice is that employees also have a tendency to ease up when goal horizons are set too low. The paper cites a 1997 study of New York City cabdrivers who found that on rainy days, taxis tended to disappear from the congested streets because drivers met their fare target early in the day and went home, rather than working longer hours to make additional income.
The irony, says Schweitzer, is that a lot of this specific goal setting is unnecessary. Research has shown that employees have a stronger intrinsic motivation to do a good job than their managers tend to give them credit for. He points to research by Stanford University organizational behavior expert Chip Heath, who "found that people tend to think that other people need extrinsic rewards more often than they really do. ..."
In fact, the authors argue that this failure to recognize the value of simply doing a good job can cause managers to instead set goals and rewards that harm intrinsic motivation and place employees on a "treadmill." The notion of a treadmill, says Schweitzer, "is that people never 'get' to where they are going. For example, people constantly pursue happiness but don't get there. They keep thinking that the next promotion, the new car, the salary raise, etc. will make them happy. They get the promotion, and that makes them happy for a time. Then they adapt and mistakenly think that it's the next promotion that will make them happy.
"People may be motivated by goals. But these goals can crowd out intrinsic motivation, so they will need more goals to motivate them in the future."
Schweitzer and his co-authors point to other negative consequences from overly specific numeric goals. For example, workers tend to lose their focus on learning new skills in favor of using tried-and-true methods to meet their quotas. In addition, companies that set targets for individual workers can create a culture of competition in which workers tend to avoid teamwork in problem solving.
Schweitzer believes one reason that goals are overused is that we focus too much attention on the individual. When things go wrong--for example, following the collapse of an Enron--we tend to blame specific individuals rather than look at the broader culture established by top managers.
All these warnings may sound odd given that there are hundreds of academic studies which show that establishing goals for employees can produce outstanding results. According to many managers, there is nothing like a BHAG—or Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal—to get the competitive juices of a company flowing. Yet this paper’s authors argue that the problems associated with such targets are far more serious and pervasive than previous studies have suggested.
This reminder of the perils of using specific targets as a management tool is timely. Faced with a brutal economic downturn, companies may be tempted to set employees even more goals than ever as they strive to cut costs fast and generate enough cash to ride out tough times. Unless they think carefully about the possible consequences, they could end up scoring some horrifying own goals.