Goal Setting Works. But Avoid Those Goals Gone Wild.

Helping employees set achievable performance goals delivers substantial benefits.
Goal setting helps employees prioritize their work and focus their day-to-day efforts effectively. It lets them know exactly what they’ll be measured on (in part) during performance reviews. It can facilitate their communication and interaction with managers. And it shows them how important their personal contributions are to department, functional and overall company targets. In short, it’s astounding how much impact goal setting can have on our bottom line and competitive strength.

Done well, goal setting also is a tremendous tool for motivating our people and fostering greater levels of engagement—especially when managers and employees create goals together and work collaboratively to set expectations.
The Human Resources function at MIT does a great job of reminding us how this is possible. The Performance Development page of its website not only instructs readers on the basics of goal setting but it also shows how to tie goal setting to employee development plans.
One of the truly insightful things MIT offers is a set of best practices for bolstering basic goal-setting strategies. These best practices include (and we’re paraphrasing):
·      Ensure there is alignment among an individual’s goals, her/his actual job responsibilities and the department’s targets. (You’d be surprised how easily these components can slip out of alignment without ongoing attention.)
·      Consider an employee’s needs—not just the department’s needs—when setting goals.
·      Communicate department goals to the entire group as a whole, not just individuals. This helps foster clarity and cohesion among the team.
·      Incorporate special projects, committee assignments and mentoring relationships into goal setting.
·      Once achieved, use goals as stepping-stones to new goals and assignments.
While some of these practices might seem rudimentary to more sophisticated organizations, many small to medium employers will benefit significantly from these suggestions.
Interestingly, there have been a few studies showing how poor and/or overblown goal setting can actually be dangerous. A few years ago, Forbes published an article featuring a report by Wharton operations and a team of researchers titled, “Goals Gone Wild: The Systematic Side Effects of Over-Prescribing Goal Setting.” Essentially, the bulk of the research showed that “overly ambitious targets” have profoundly negative consequences. Just goes to show you that too much of anything—even a good thing—can be bad.

Bottom line, help your employees set limited, realistic goals … and be sure to avoid those nasty goals gone wild.