Why excessive goal-setting is bad for business

Chasing misguided goals has been highly damaging for UK plc lately. Could there be a better approach?

by Philip Delves Broughton

Goals are good, right? Indeed, setting targets is so tightly woven into the way we do business that it's difficult to conceive of a world without performance measures or departmental goals. Just imagine how the HR department would cope without its 'measurables'. And how could you motivate the sales team without the lure of two weeks in Ibiza? Targets keep us focused, productive and motivated.

But goal-setting isn't everything it's cracked up to be. The entire world is questioning its value after the implosion of financial institutions for which targets and goals were close to a religion. Wall Street financial institutions were obsessed with each other's performance, which led to firms such as Merrill Lynch and Citigroup taking on risks that only Goldman Sachs was equipped to manage.

Say the authors of the recent academic paper Goals Gone Wild: The systematic side effects of over-prescribing goal setting (The Academy of Management Perspectives): 'Goal setting has been over prescribed... rather than being offered as an over-the-counter salve for boosting performance, goal setting should be prescribed selectively, presented with a warning label, and closely monitored.'

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