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10 tips on setting goals for others

03/17/2009

Ask employees to focus on razor-thin, challenging targets, and they might fail or do something unethical. Managers can avoid those unintended consequences by using this 10-point checklist when setting goals for others.

1. Are the goals too specific?
In the race to meet a specific goal, Ford created a car that had serious flaws—the Pinto. Be sure your goals include all critical components for success (both quantity and quality).

2. Are they too challenging? Offer training if skills are lacking. And avoid harsh punishment for failure to reach a goal.

3. Who sets goals? People who set their own goals are more committed.

4. Is the time horizon appropriate
or does it foster short-termism? Consider eliminating quarterly reports, as Coca-Cola did.

5. Have you articulated acceptable levels of risk?

6. How might the goals promote corrupt behavior? Example: Sears set challenging sales goals of $147 per hour for its auto repair staff. That prompted staff to overcharge for work. Set up multiple safeguards to keep employees from rationalizing unethical behavior.

7. Can they be tailored to individual abilities? Strive to set goals that use common standards and account for individual variation.

8. How will they affect culture? If cooperation is essential, consider setting team-based goals.

9. Do affected staff have an intrinsic motivation? It can be the difference between commitment and going through the motions.

10. Consider whether learning would be a better target than performance. Although they’re not as measurable as work outcomes, acquiring news skills or gaining new perspectives are valuable ways for employees to spend their time.

— Adapted from “Goals Gone Wild,” Lisa D. Ordonez, Maurice E. Schweitzer, Adam D. Galinsky, Max H. Bazerman; Harvard Business School.