Goals, Accomplishment, and Management by Objectives

by Dr. Gordon D. Booth

Most of us have had some contact with goal-setting. Our experience could have either built us up or torn us down. It might have helped us, deterred us, or had no effect on us at all. Our organizations might have set goals for us to accomplish or we might have set our own goals. Regardless of the conditions under which we have experienced goal-setting, we probably have either positive or negative feelings regarding goals. It is unlikely that a person who has had experience with goals will be indifferent toward goal-setting.

John Goddard, the explorer, said: "If you really know what things you want out of life, it's amazing how opportunities will come to enable you to carry them out." Of course, Mr. Goddard was referring to a motivated individual, with a clear vision of what was important to him or to her. He was discussing the process of setting goals for ourselves. not setting goals for others.

A prevalent activity in organizations is for management to set goals for other individuals within the organization. This sometimes takes the form of "Management By Objective." To understand how effective or ineffective it is to set goals for others, we need to understand the fundamental elements of an effective goal. We need to understand why the setting of goals so often fails to bring about the desired result.

Goals that succeed are always based on common values that are shared by all those who accomplish the goal. Each person who achieves the goal needs to have a true, inner commitment to see the goal accomplished. If a goal is developed by an individual or group of individuals and is later forced upon others, it will fail unless the underlying concepts of the goal truly meet the values of the persons who had the goal thrust upon them. This lack of common values is a major cause of failed goals. For an organizational goal to succeed, it is important that shared values be cultivated within the organization. Only then will there be a widespread commitment to its accomplishment.

Another essential element of a successful goal is that the setting of the goal will include a clear roadmap for its accomplishment. The method by which the goal will be accomplished must be stated clearly at the outset. Without a clear, workable method for accomplishing a goal, it is unlikely that it will ever be fulfilled.

There are other very important aspects of setting goals and disseminating them throughout an organization. Each much be taken seriously for the goal-setting activity to be beneficial to either the organization or the individuals within it. Quality professionals should be aware of how effective goals can be set and achieved and, if the relationship is good enough, they should warn management of the potential pitfalls of setting artificial, unrealistic, or inappropriate goals.