Goals and Quality: Are They Compatible?

by Dr. Gordon D. Booth

Goals are advocated in almost every walk of life. Our children are taught to be goal-oriented--to set and accomplish goals for themselves as a means of self-improvement. Companies set goals of increased performance and reduced waste. Schools set goals to increase SAT and ACT scores of the students. Motivational speakers tout goals almost as a panacea for our lack of success. Some years ago, our national government set a goal to have 95 percent of our students graduate from high school by the year 2000. Goals are everywhere.

Are we better off for having these goals prominently stated and emphasized? Do we work harder when we know that we are trying to meet a goal? Does the sales force increase sales because management has set the goal of a 15 percent increase in sales? These are important questions regarding the usefulness of the goal-making activity. They are also at the root of another important question: Do goals increase quality?

If management sets a goal of a 15 percent increase in sales, and if a sales person fears the loss of their job if they fail to meet that goal, they may work harder in order to meet the goal. But, what happens to quality? In the heat of battle to gain more sales, are customers offended? Are other sales people stepped on in the process? Are promises made to the customer that cannot be made? Are products sold under false claims?

It is important to distinguish between goals people set for themselves as opposed to goals that are imposed on them by someone in authority over them. The motivation of the individual is totally different under the two circumstances. Under the first situation, the person wants to succeed and tries hard to make it happen. In the second case, there is a resentment from the beginning. If an attempt to accomplish the goal is made, it is often done begrudgingly.

Something closely akin to goals, which in a sense involves goals, is the development of mission statements. Mission statements have been useful--but usually only when the entire organization feels they have been a part of their development. When a mission statement is thrust upon the people in an organization after it has been developed by management, it seldom has much affect. Contrast this with the example of the Ritz-Carleton Hotels. Their mission statement was painstakingly developed by a process that involved virtually every employee in the company. At least all were made to feel they could contribute and make their feelings known. The result is a team that is highly committed to the mission statement and the quality it builds. It was not a goal that was thrust upon them, but one that they felt they had created themselves.

Management makes a serious mistake when they fail to recognize that a goal cannot be made by one person or group and forced upon another person or group. If that is attempted, it is not a goal but a target that carries within it an implied threat. When this happens, quality often suffers.