Thursday, April 24, 2014

Michael Josephson: The illusion of success

  Reach for the stars. Pursue goals beyond your grasp. These are good life strategies. We never know how much we can accomplish until we try.

  But what happens when we’re told we must reach the stars or suffer consequences?

  A common workplace strategy to spur employee achievement is to set aggressive productivity objectives that, like mechanical rabbits that lead racing greyhounds, are usually beyond reach. Benignly called "stretch goals" by those who set them, the idea is to generate maximum effort. A salesperson who’s expected to increase sales by 10 percent may only achieve a six-percent gain, but that’s still pretty good.

  But there’s a downside to this clever management technique. For one thing, it generates unhealthy stress and low morale when employees catch on to the game and resent being manipulated like racing dogs. For another, unrealistic stretch goals overemphasize short-term performance and encourage employees to conceal, ignore, and defer problems. Finally, some employees will simply cheat to make the numbers.

  Organizational audits conducted by Josephson Institute reveal that a high percentage of employees who are pressured to achieve ever-escalating numerical goals manipulate numbers and distort reports. A significant number outright lie.

  Pressure is no excuse for cheating, but it’s a frequent cause. Those who play the stretch-goal game are accountable for the predictable side effects of relentlessly pursuing numbers, especially if they don’t place even greater emphasis on honesty and integrity.

  About the author: Michael Josephson is one of the nation’s most sought-after and quoted ethicists. Founder and president of Josephson Institute and its CHARACTER COUNTS! project, he has conducted programs for more than 100,000 leaders in government, business, education, sports, law enforcement, journalism, law, and the military. Mr. Josephson is also an award-winning radio commentator.

  This article was published by the Josephson Institute.

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