Goal Setting Techniques Managers Should Avoid
In 2002, professors Edwin A. Locke and Gary P. Latham, two of the best known academic researchers on goal-setting techniques, wrote an article in American Psychologist summarizing their 35 years of research. Among their findings:
⇒ Setting specific, difficult goals consistently leads to higher performance than just urging people to do their best.
⇒ High goals generate greater effort than low goals, and the highest or most difficult goals produce the greatest levels of effort and performance.
⇒ Tight deadlines lead to a more rapid work pace than loose deadlines.
⇒ Making a public commitment to a goal enhances personal commitment.
⇒ Whether the goal is set by mutual agreement or by the boss alone doesn’t make a big difference in goal achievement.
So the argument for strategic goal setting seemed settled. Set specific, difficult goals with tight deadlines. Don’t be too concerned about whether the goal is jointly set by the individual and manager together, or whether the boss just hands the subordinate the list of goals he expects the subordinate to achieve together with a tough due-date. Let everybody know what your goals are. The predictable result: Increased effort, greater persistence, and better performance.
Practice is different
But many organisations don’t follow Locke and Latham’s advice. In fact, there are three techniques that are common in today’s organizations that go directly against their findings: SMART goals, cascading goals, and using percentage weights to indicate relative goal importance.
It’s easy to think that there’s a technique that’s going to make goal setting easy or straightforward, but there isn’t. However, as Latham and Locke’s research has shown, the payoffs of investing time and thought into goal setting are substantial. Just avoid being blindly constrained by the SMART test, be cautious about cascading goals, and avoid percentage weights.