Goals Gone Wild

By — on / Negotiation Skills

Max H. Bazerman sat down with Sean Silverthorne of Harvard Business School’s Working Knowledge to discuss goal setting and how to effectively set goals on an individual and organizational level.

Researchers from top business schools have collaborated on research demonstrating that, in some cases, goal setting may actually do more harm than good.

The paper, “Goals Gone Wild: The Systematic Side Effects of Over-Prescribing Goal Setting” is authored by Lisa D. Ordonez, Eller College of Management, University of Arizona; Maurice E. Schweitzer, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania; Adam D. Galinsky, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, and Max H. Bazerman, Harvard Business School and Program on Negotiation faculty member.

Even worse, if goals are not effectively set, they can cause real damage to the individuals and organizations pursuing them. Bad aftereffects of ineffective goals range from increasingly unethical behavior within an organization to a myopic focus that neglects other organizational needs. Additionally, distorted perceptions of relative risk, a weakened organizational culture, and reduced intrinsic motivation also contribute to the harm ineffective goals can do to an organization.

When effectively established, and planned, goals can inspire and improve performance, but they cannot be a blanket solution to every organizational problem. Bazerman advocates for creating an environment in which, “…people want to achieve, where they want to help the organization, and where they want to do so in an ethical manner.”

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