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Performance Management Performance Management Cycle

Improved Performance Starts with Planning IV

The last of four articles addressing performance planning

The final article in this series provides suggestions for avoiding dangers and pitfalls when planning work and setting goals. The information contained in this article was taken from Goal Setting: A Motivational Technique That Works! by Edwin A. Locke and Gary P. Latham.

Setting goals for individuals and groups improves their performance. Although goal setting can be extremely beneficial to an organization, there are some dangers and pitfalls to avoid in the process.

Excessive Risk Taking

Setting high but achievable goals improves performance. However, high goals also have a higher probability of failure. As goals are set and work is planned to reach those goals, a risk analysis also should be done to determine:

  • the possible negative consequences of a given course of action;
  • the seriousness of those consequences; and
  • contingency plans for avoiding or mitigating those consequences.

Increased Stress

Sometimes setting goals can increase employees' stress levels. Although stress probably can never be completely eliminated, it can be managed. Ways to decrease stress include:

  • lowering goals that are set too high;
  • providing training when stress is caused by a lack of skills;
  • giving employees more control and authority over how their work is done;
  • reducing goal ambiguity by making goals specific; and
  • reducing goal conflict by ensuring compatible assignments from different sources.

Fear of Failure

If employees are penalized for not achieving their goals, further negative consequences can develop, such as feelings of inadequacy, lowered self-esteem, anxiety about the future, anger, and/or depression. These may be avoided if goals are treated as guidelines, not as tools to punish those who fall short. If managers and employees treat goal failure as a problem to be solved rather than blaming each other, they can work together to ensure future success.

Goals as Ceilings

Goals can easily turn into ceilings on performance, which means that once the goal is achieved, performance improvement efforts cease for a variety of reasons (e.g., fear that performance exceeding the goal will work against the employees' interests in the long run). Well-designed and well-administered incentive systems can lessen the likelihood of ceiling effects if they are designed to reward performance that occurs above the goal. Also, careful, conservative staffing can lessen ceiling effects because it will reduce the chances for layoffs.

Nongoal Areas Ignored

Work for which goals are not set may not get done. If that work is critical, setting a goal for it will solve the problem.

Short-Range Thinking

Managers and employees often take shortcuts so that short-term results will look good. To lessen this effect, managers and employees could be appraised not only on outcomes or actions achieved but on the quality of the particular tactics or strategies used to achieve them. Short-range thinking also occurs when the time frames of goals are short. To avoid this, long-range goals with shorter subgoals could be established.

Dishonesty and Cheating

Sometimes managers and employees will "fudge" data to make it look like they are achieving their goals. This can be extremely detrimental to the organization and everyone involved. Approaches that will reduce the likelihood of systematic cheating include the following:

  • honesty should be valued and recognized throughout the organization;
  • goals should not be used as devices for punishment;
  • managers should be open to negative information and show willingness to act on it.

These four articles have shown how goal setting as part of performance planning for employees and groups is a technique that can be used to improve performance and to facilitate the accomplishment of the organization's mission and goals. If used incorrectly, it will not work and may even backfire. But when used effectively, goal setting can inspire employees and lead them to new levels of achievement.

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