Preston J. Leavitt, Ph.D., J.D., C.P.M.
Preston J. Leavitt, Ph.D., J.D., C.P.M., 8533 West Rice Avenue, Littleton, CO 80123-1131, 303/973-2625.
Abstract. Almost everyone sets goals. Too often however, we find ourselves entangled in the "activity trap"-so involved in the activity of working toward a goal that we forget the goal itself. Being active or looking busy does not mean being productive. Successful goal setting places the emphasis on outputs, not activities.
A goal is simply a desirable objective to be achieved- a result to be attained. Goals indicate the direction in which decisions and actions should be aimed. Clear goals also specify the quality or quantity of the desired results. In most organizational settings, goals serve two purposes: (1) They are a useful framework for managing motivation, and (2) they are useful control devices. Goals specify results and outcomes that someone believes to be worth achieving.
Goals can cover the long run (years) or the short run (minutes, hours, days, or months). Long range or general organizational goals such as survival, growth and profitability often remain stable. However, the development of specific, short-range goals for departments and projects requires constant managerial and employee attention. The heart of successful management lies in the ability to effectively use goal setting to get things done. Goals are crucial to giving employees, managers, and organizations a sense of order, direction, and meaning.
Setting goals can yield several benefits, which are the same whether the goals apply to an entire organization, a specific department or division, a team, or an individual employee. First, goals serve to focus individual and organizational decisions and efforts. Goals provide a set of stated expectations that everyone can understand and work to achieve. Second, goals aid the planning process. After diagnosing problems managers usually establish goals as a part of their planning efforts. Third, goals motivate people and stimulate better performance. Clear and specific goals often raise productivity and improve the quality of work. Fourth, goals assist in performance evaluations and control.
General goals provide broad direction for decision making in qualitative terms. Operational goals state what is to be achieved in quantitative terms, for whom, and within what time period. Basic goal setting theory is based on the premise that behavior is caused by conscious goals and intentions. The basic goal setting model asserts that performance is shaped primarily by goal difficulty and goal specificity. Goal difficulty is the extent to which a goal is challenging and requires effort to reach. In order for difficult goals to motivate behavior, they must be attainable and they must be reinforced. Goal specificity relates to the definition of the target for performance. Specificity is usually achieved by stating a goal in quantitative terms.
Organizationally, Management by Objectives (MBO) is one of the primary goal setting systems used successfully. The MBO process involves collaboration between the manager and the employee in setting employee goals for the next planning period, and then, at the end of the period, assessing the degree to which the goals have been accomplished. The process looks like this:
The MBO process has both strengths and weaknesses. On the positive side, MBO has the potential to motivate employees, it clarifies the bases for rewards, it enhances communication, and it can be used for control purposes. On the negative side, if top management fails to take part, the goals that are developed may not represent the overall organization; there can be a tendency to overemphasize quantitative goals to enhance verifiability; MBO requires a great deal of paperwork and record keeping; and some managers do not really allow subordinates to participate in goal setting, but rather assign their goals to them.
To help strengthen both individual and organizational goal setting here are ten common sense rules.
Individually, personal goal setting and the resulting self-improvement can enhance professional success. Self-improvement doesn't require that you be dissatisfied with the way you are now, forever focused on some faraway goal. It means enjoying the process as much as the result. The purpose of life is growth, and positive growth is much easier with a goal achievement system. In this way the key purpose of goal setting is self-knowledge. By finding out what you want, you also find out who you are. The fact is that most people conduct their lives and their careers according to other people's expectations. So while setting goals may be scary, it is necessary. Because if you don't have the courage to pursue your own goals, you leave yourself open to the many people who will be only too happy to recruit you to pursue theirs.
Jimmy Calano and Jeff Salzman in their book Career Tracking identify several steps to successfully setting and achieving your personal goals.
Through successful goal setting you'll be more optimistic, motivated, and in control of your life than you've been in a long time. As Ed Bliss, author of Getting Things Done, says: "The first step in achieving your goals is to recognize that 'someday' is not a day of the week."
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