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

28 Pages Posted: 23 Jan 2009 Last revised: 8 May 2012

Lisa D. Ordonez

University of Arizona

Maurice E. Schweitzer

University of Pennsylvania - Operations & Information Management Department

Adam D. Galinsky

Columbia Business School - Management

Max H. Bazerman

Harvard Business School - Negotiations, Organizations and Markets Unit

Date Written: January 23, 2009

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 non-goal areas, a rise in unethical behavior, distorted risk preferences, 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.

Suggested Citation

Ordonez, Lisa D. and Schweitzer, Maurice E. and Galinsky, Adam D. and Bazerman, Max H., Goals Gone Wild: The Systematic Side Effects of Over-Prescribing Goal Setting (January 23, 2009). Harvard Business School NOM Unit Working Paper No. 09-083. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1332071 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1332071

Lisa D. Ordonez

University of Arizona ( email )

Tucson, AZ 85721
United States

Maurice E. Schweitzer

University of Pennsylvania - Operations & Information Management Department ( email )

Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States
215-898-4776 (Phone)
215-898-3664 (Fax)

Adam D. Galinsky

Columbia Business School - Management ( email )

3022 Broadway
New York, NY 10027
United States

Max H. Bazerman (Contact Author)

Harvard Business School - Negotiations, Organizations and Markets Unit ( email )

Soldiers Field
Boston, MA 02163
United States
617-495-6429 (Phone)
617-496-4191 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.people.hbs.edu/mbazerman

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