Researchers ask a group of people to watch a video in which two teams are passing basketballs. One team wears white shirts, while the other wears dark shirts. The viewers are assigned the task of counting the passes among the white-shirt team. In concentrating on this objective, the viewers unconsciously block out the players wearing dark shirts. They become so focused on the players wearing white shirts that they don’t notice when a man wearing a black gorilla suit enters the scene, pounds his chest, and walks off screen (Simons & Chabris, 1999).
Measuring company performance leads quite naturally to the impulse to set a goal. Goal-setting is a favorite tool used by companies in an effort to motivate employees and to improve business performance. While this strategy certainly has its merits, it is not a blanket business solution. Extensive consideration must go into determining the suitability of a goal, identifying a metric, and determining effective short and long-term targets. In the example above, the participants focused so narrowly on their goal that they became blind to surrounding circumstances. If such tunnel-vision can occur in a controlled lab setting, imagine the potential oversights in such a complex environment as the business world!
Noted benefits of goal-based management:
· Goal-based management presents unambiguous expectations.
· It allows for objective evaluation of performance.
· Attention and resources are focused on a common objective.
· Goals serve as motivation to increase efforts.
· Such narrow focus can inhibit creativity, innovation, and learning.
· It can increase competition, thereby decreasing cooperation.
· Pressure to meet a goal sometimes results in unethical employee behavior.
· The goal may be achieved at the cost of other essential components for success.
This is the first post within a series that explores the potential benefits, as well as the dangers, in relying upon goals in business. The series offers opportunity for discussion on how to effectively set and manage goals (using both statistical and practical applications), should they be deemed appropriate for your business.
Director, Marketing Sciences
Simons, D. J., & Chabris , C. F. (1999). Gorillas in our midst: sustained inattentional blindness for dynamic events. Perception, 28(9), 1059-1074.
Ordonez, Lisa D.; Maurice E. Schweitzer; Adam D. Galinsky; and Max H. Bazerman (2009). "Goals Gone Wild: The Systematic Side Effects of Over-Prescribing Goal Settings" Harvard Business School Working Paper.