I was prompted to write this post after reading Daniel Markovitz’s recent article in HBR in which he makes a really good case for challenging the value of Stretch Goals. To summarize he makes 3 key statements:
- Stretch goals can be terribly demotivating.
- Stretch goals have a dangerous tendency to foster unethical behavior.
- Stretch goals can also — tragically — lead to excessive risk taking.
The way in which goals, targets and objectives are applied in many of our companies and organisations is now open to question and review. The principles and methods by which they are applied has changed little from the industrial days of their birth.
Within a factory-based model of production, when tasks were well-defined and output easily measured, targets, and especially stretch targets, were useful ways to drive up productivity. After all, if you wanted to increase widget production by 10%, you worked people harder, increased the speed of the conveyor, offered bonus targets (or overtime payment), and measured the success of your intervention immediately and directly.
However, most problems and challenges we face today are not of this order. Companies, organisations and governments are looking for creative, innovative solutions to intangible and intellectual problems. We don’t even know the right question in many cases yet, let alone reward people for achieving stretch goals that produce answers that may not even be correct or appropriate. Despite this, we appear reluctant to break away from the traditional factory model of reward and motivation.
The evidence, however, is clear. Stretch goals and offering people bigger rewards to solve intellectual problems actually has the effect of lowering performance. It is in fact a disincentive. They work in the case of clear, well-defined and narrowly focused tasks, but with complex, intellectual problems they actually dull thinking and cause people to have too narrow a focus.
This is addressed excellently by Dan Pink in a TED talk on “the surprising science of motivation”. If you haven’t watched this, I thoroughly recommend it to you.
The entire concept is flawed. The incentives system is allegedly “designed to sharpen thinking and accelerate creativity, and it does just the opposite. It dulls thinking and blocks creativity.” (Dan Pink)
But, let’s be clear. I am not saying that Continue reading
I recently had a conversation with a senior manager in a large global organisation about how he was applying performance management in his area. What he told me surprised me. He had a few people in his teams that were clearly not performing as well as they could. Their contributions, when set against people doing similar jobs in other parts of the business, were lower, and they showed no desire to grow and develop beyond their area of specialism. But the manager appreciated their efforts, saw them as ‘steady-eddies’ and knew they would never be star performers. They were valuable to him, because they had skills he would find hard to replace, even though he knew demand for those skills were in rapid decline. He saw no point in ‘upsetting the apple cart’, as he put it, as everything was running quite smoothly. His customer was happy, his team was happy, and he was happy. So, why cause problems?
I asked him how he wanted to be viewed by his team as a leader, when they looked back on their careers.
At first he thought that they would see him as a ‘friendly manager’, someone they could ‘trust’, who ‘looked after them’, and to some extent ‘protected them’ from all of the ‘latest fads’ and ‘initiatives’ that were doing the rounds in the business. Those ‘fads and initiatives’ that he was referring to are about preparing people for what are major global changes within the industry, that are demanding different skills and ways of working. People are being encouraged to take responsibility for their own careers, to uplift their skills, and develop new ways of thinking to better prepare themselves for the disruption and challenges that are rapidly emerging.
I suggested that it was possible they would look upon him as a useful buffer and protector from ‘disruptive change’ in the short term (or for as long as their area remains viable), but that in the longer term they are likely to look back and question why others had ‘stolen a march’ on them.
They may be saying things like: Continue reading
If we accept that successful leadership helps people to take responsibility, to grow and develop, and to make hard choices, then, by definition, when people remain reliant and dependent on others providing answers, guidance and direction, and are content to let others do the work, then the leadership we get is, at best, sub-optimal.
People like to elect or hire leaders to provide them with the right answers, and not to confront them with challenging questions or difficult choices. But, the great leaders do just that. They do not resort to using their authority to ‘implement their own answers’. They may set out the vision, they may indicate the general direction we need to follow, but they will also put responsibility back in the hands of people to come up with the answers that are right for them and to be implemented at a pace that is tolerable.
Indeed, the more challenging the problem and the more risks involved, the more that people need to face up to the adaptive pressures and the choices that they face. And, paradoxically, it is under these extreme situations that leaders come under the most pressure to provide the right answers.
The danger in these situations is that some leaders will Continue reading
All good leaders know the difference between ‘internal commitment’ and ‘compliance’. Yes, sometimes, compliance will have to do, particularly in moments of crisis and great urgency, when there is no time to put the ‘effort’ into gaining real buy-in.
But, the downsides of trying to lead when all you have behind you is ‘compliance’ are clear:-
- People who are not fully committed to your vision and journey are unlikely to ‘go the extra mile’ when the going gets tough.
- People will need convincing over and over again as each new situation arises. Basically you buy compliance with a ‘for one use only’ sticker.
- People do not undergo learning and growth so successfully when they adopt a state of ‘grudging compliance’ , unlike when they are ‘fully committed’ and bought in to what they are doing.
- People who are not ‘fully committed’ tend to look to others to take responsibility and blame others when things go wrong. In other words they deflect responsibility.
For a leader to be successful in their venture, they need their teams and followers to be fully committed and bought in completely to the vision and journey, and be Continue reading