Article | Academy of Management Perspectives | February 2009

Goals Gone Wild: The Systematic Side Effects of Over-Prescribing Goal Setting

by Lisa D. Ordonez, Maurice E. Schweitzer, Adam D. Galinsky and Max H. Bazerman

Abstract

Goal setting is one of the most replicated and influential paradigms in the management literature. Hundreds of studies conducted in numerous countries and contexts have consistently demonstrated that setting specific, challenging goals can powerfully drive behavior and boost performance. Advocates of goal setting have had a substantial impact on research, management education, and management practice. In this article, we argue that the beneficial effects of goal setting have been overstated and that systematic harm caused by goal setting has been largely ignored. We identify specific side effects associated with goal setting, including a narrow focus that neglects nongoal areas, distorted risk preferences, a rise in unethical behavior, inhibited learning, corrosion of organizational culture, and reduced intrinsic motivation. Rather than dispensing goal setting as a benign, over-the-counter treatment for motivation, managers and scholars need to conceptualize goal setting as a prescription-strength medication that requires careful dosing, consideration of harmful side effects, and close supervision. We offer a warning label to accompany the practice of setting goals.

Keywords: Goals and Objectives; Management Practices and Processes; Organizational Culture; Performance Improvement; Behavior; Motivation and Incentives;

Citation:

Ordonez, Lisa D., Maurice E. Schweitzer, Adam D. Galinsky, and Max H. Bazerman. "Goals Gone Wild: The Systematic Side Effects of Over-Prescribing Goal Setting." Academy of Management Perspectives 23, no. 1 (February 2009).