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Be careful with goals

Setting goals is common business advice. Hundreds of studies have demonstrated that setting goals can improve results.

However, a Harvard report has identified five potential negative side-effects of goals, if they are not well thought through. These are:

  • Unethical behaviors
  • Unanticipated behaviors
  • Neglected areas
  • Reduced teamwork
  • Reduced motivation.


To help you set goals which achieve the results you want, without any negative side effects, here are 10 questions to think about when setting goals.

Question 1 – Are goals too specific?
Narrow goals can blind people to important aspects of a problem.

When setting goals, make sure that goals are comprehensive and include all of the critical components for firm success – for example quality as well as quantity.

Question 2 – Are the goals too challenging?
The key is to provide the resources and training to enable employees to reach goals.

Question 3 – Who is going to set the goals?
People are naturally more committed to goals they help to set. But, be careful to ensure that people are not tempted to set easy to reach goals.

Question 4 – Is the timeframe appropriate?
Be sure that short-term efforts to reach a goal do not harm investment in long-term objectives.

Question 5 – How could the goals effect risk taking?
Be sure to think about what are acceptable levels of risk.

Question 6 – How could the goals encourage unethical behavior?
You may need to include safeguards to ensure ethical behavior while attaining goals.

Question 7 – Can goals be tailored for individuals but still fair?
Make sure goals are perceived as fair because employee perceptions of whether rewards fairly match effort and performance can be one of the best predictors of commitment and motivation.

Question 8 – How will goals influence organizational culture?
Think about the culture you are trying to create. Consider setting team-based goals as well as or instead of individual goals.

Question 9 – Are goals reducing motivation for the work?
Assess employees motivation and appreciate that goals can reduce motivation for the work because employees can be focused on the rewards for achieving goals  .

Question 10 – What is the ultimate goals
Think about the organization and what type of goal is most appropriate? In complex, changing environments learning goals may be more effective.