There are a lot of things business people take for granted. Those things that are so deeply engrained in our operating philosophy that we just accept them without any critical judgement whatsoever. Let's add another suspect to the list; goals.
Sacrilege you cry? Preposterous? WTF!? Perhaps, but the evidence is mounting.
Firstly, Pfeffer and Sutton introduced an interesting idea in the Knowing Doing Gap:
"The foundation of any successfully run business is a strategy that everyone understands coupled with a few key measures that are routinely tracked."
They go on to say, "the dictum that what is measured is what gets done has lead to the apparent belief that if a company measures more things, more will get done. But that is not at all the case. Southwest Airlines focuses on the critical measure of lost baggage, customer complaints and on-time performance - the keys to customer satisfaction and therefore to success in the airline industry."
Even one of my all-time favourites, Peter Drucker, is famous for saying something like, "If you can't measure it, you can't manage it."
Notice the word "measures" was used rather than goals. Is this a frivolous distinction, or is it meaningful? I don't honestly know. But like the movement toward approaches like Beyond Budgeting, it appears that measuring something isn't bad, but perhaps setting a hard goal or target just may be.
From the book Drive, by Daniel Pink, there is a suggestion that goals should be preceded by a warning label: "Goals may cause systematic problems for organizations due to narrowed focus, unethical behaviour, increased risk taking, decreased cooperation, and decreased intrinsic motivation." Ouch.
In the chapter summary, Pink summarizes the most compelling research with the following bullets:
Carrots and Sticks: Seven Deadly Flaws
1. They can extinguish intrinsic motiviation.
2. They can diminish performance.
3. They can crush creativity.
4. They can crowd out good behaviour.
5. They can encourage cheating, shortcuts, and unethical behaviour.
6. They can be addictive.
7. They can foster short-term thinking.
This has interesting implications for enterprises of all shapes and sizes. Especially, for those companies trying to build products to help enterprises reach their potential; like us.;)