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Goal Setting And Growth: Positive Alternatives To Negative Situations


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.

82nd Annual International Conference Proceedings - 1997 

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:

  1. MBO begins at the top of the organization. To be successful, top management must first establish overall goals for the organization.
  2. Top management goals should include such areas as sales growth, market share growth, costs, productivity, absenteeism, turnover, and the like.
  3. Collaborative goal setting between managers and employees takes place next. Organizational goals are communicated to everyone and then each supervisor and subordinate meet to articulate specific, measurable goals.
  4. The goals are written down and used in periodic reviews to check progress toward goal attainment.
  5. At the end of the planning period, results are evaluated. These results are recorded and usually included in the performance review that determines salary and other rewards.

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.

  1. Use indicators (ways to measure results) wherever they can be used.
  2. Use common indicators where the jobs are numerous and alike, and use special indicators for special jobs.
  3. Let people participate in devising indicators for their jobs rather than imposing them from the top or having them created by someone who has never done the job.
  4. Never avoid using indicators, but never fully believe the indicators. Some human explanation is needed to make them meaningful.
  5. Use past results to create indicators for the future.
  6. Never set an indicator in place without having a reason for it.
  7. Be mindful that the indicator is not an end in itself, but a means of getting the organization where you want it to go.
  8. Change or dump an indicator that stops action.
  9. Get people committed to the indicators by involving them in thinking them up.
  10. Always watch for innovative and creative things that fall above and beyond the indicator systems. Then praise and encourage these things.

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.

  1. Buy into goal setting. Buy into taking control over your life. Chances are you can control your life much more than you do now.
  2. Start by fantasizing. If you could do anything, what would you do? If you could be anyone, who would you be? What would you do if you knew you couldn't fail? Most people fail to get what they want because they refuse to let themselves think about it.
  3. Set up a written goal setting system. The difference between a wish and a goal is that a goal is a written down. Putting your goals on paper allows you literally to see them, which makes them much easier to rework, focus, and prioritize.
  4. Turn your goals into deadlines. Break long-term goals into short-term ones and assign them deadlines. This gives you small, immediate victories that keep your momentum going.
  5. Make them specific and measurable. This gives you the opportunity to make your goals personal and achievable.
  6. Make them realistic and compatible. Only you can decide what's realistic for you. But it's better to set your goals too high than sell yourself short by setting them too low. And do your goals fit with who you are? Are they compatible with your personality and lifestyle?
  7. Review your goals often. A goal setting review is the time to be honest about which goals you're really committed to and which ones are only dreams. It's okay to change and abandon goals and then recommit to the ones your serious about, and feel good about the whole process.
  8. Keep your goals front and center. A quick daily review of your goals is helpful. By keeping your attention focused on them. you will minimize the chances of getting caught up in trivia or wasting your time on things that aren't really important to you.
  9. Persist and prevail. The key is persistence. Abandon goals only if they've lost meaning for you-never because they're too tough or you've had a setback.
  10. Start this second. Goal setting transforms you from being a thinker and contemplator to being a doer and achiever! Don't let good intentions lead you astray. Do something now!

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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