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The Dark Side Of Goal Setting

A recent article concluding a summary of studies on goal-setting stated,
“Along with motivating constructive behavior, goal setting–especially when it involves rewards–can motivate unethical behavior when people fall wanting the goals they set or are set for them.”[1]

The Prevalence of Goal-Setting
3Pcs Straight Human Hair Weave Bundles With Ear to Ear Lace Frontal ClosureWhen we think about it, goal-setting seems fundamental to performance and measurement of that performance in our world–a healthy response to the action we make and take; hardly any part of the world is immune from goals. Not even the ministry or the Vatican is immune, though they is likely to be somewhat less relevant to some, viz, monasterial orders. Goal-setting is, however, ostensibly secular in its philosophy and objective.

But, the true issue here is the misuse of goal-setting, as surely goal-setting is a wisdom construct: at its purest, it is the aiming for, and monitoring of, the truthful best. Agencies and persons who set goals (and that can be all of us) must then understand the potential impact goal-setting has on the flawed human psyche, and how it may possibly easily manipulate the human condition toward unethical deeds and ends.

So Close, But Yet Thus far…
The temptation to skimp ethically on safety and other requirements in the achievement of goals is especially marked right as the goal is about to be reached.

Recently I got a call from my daughter to choose her up early from work; I hadn’t allowed for this, and I used to be going to struggle to make it–my goal of picking her up on time was at jeopardy. I discovered myself suddenly slightly more foot-leaden as I drove to choose her up.

I took what risk I thought I could get away with, until I realised my folly. (We in a short time forget how easily we’re duped at times, as we are motivated by the goal in ignorant bliss.) Yet, I should’ve just been honest and told her I would be five minutes late (re-setting the goal to ensure it was achievable). Had I been further away (say thirty minutes) I wouldn’t have even attempted to take risks–I might have just been straight about it. But, I was tantalizingly close to achieving my objective; so close I was prepared to entertain ‘bending’ the road rules!

An example from the business world could be meeting a lost time injury frequency rate target by bringing injured workers into work to do ‘light duties.’ A church example might be goals on baptisms or attendance–the tried and tested ‘numbers’ game–where the books are ‘cooked’ to show favorable growth.

Both in the secular and ministry worlds, this behavior is a misrepresentation of the truth.
The rewards for achieving goals will be both tangible and intangible. Tangible rewards are easy enough to represent i.e. bonuses, trinkets and other commodities, however the intangible rewards run loads deeper to things like, positive self-evaluation and self-satisfaction, not to mention the incurred ‘psychological costs’ of unmet goals.

The Role of Accountability in Performance Measurement
People will even have a greater propensity to misreport or misrepresent their actual performance if there’s an absence of accountability. As I drove to pick up my daughter, I considered the consequences morally (toward hypocrisy) and the possibilities of a speeding ticket; both of those issues kept me accountable. Yet, there are lots of times in life when we don’t have that level of supervision, and we will easily justify just a little bending of the foundations to get what we want.

It appears that if we want to set people up to succeed (in any environment, whether it is secular business or church ministry) we ought to provide impetus for people to either simply ‘try their best,’ measuring the method and not so much the outcome, or we must always ensure there are streams of solid, reliable accountability–or we are able to expect people to be tempted and, not less than in some cases, overcome by the temptations to cheat and claim as met, unmet goals.

Perhaps it is the application of both: ‘Try your best’ cultures where we’re rewarded similarly whether goals are met or not AND sufficient accountability (without stifling performance and hurting morale).

Seemingly either one needs to be strongly present in the matter of goal-setting. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

[1] Knowledge@Wharton – Operations Management, Goal setting and Cheating: Why They Often Go Together in the Workplace (July 28, 2004) Retrieved April 28, 2009. Available online at Source: articleid=1017

Author Box Steve Wickham has 1 articles online
Steve Wickham is a safety and health professional (BSc, MSIA, RSP) and a certified, unordained Christian minister (GradDipDiv). He also has training and leadership Diplomas. His passion in vocation is facilitation and coaching; encouraging people to soar to the next value of their potential. Steve’s key passion is work / life balance and re-creating value for living, and an exploration of the person within us.

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