COMMENTARY 789.3: The Illusion of Success

A common management strategy to spur achievement is to set aggressive performance objectives that, like the mechanical rabbits that pace racing greyhounds, push employees to maximum effort. Using “stretch goals” can be successful, but unreasonably high performance goals often spawn dishonesty and irresponsibility.

Believing that “it’s a matter of survival,” a disturbing number of employees conclude that distortion, deception, and even outright falsification of numbers are justified to keep their jobs and earn their bonuses. As a result, almost everyone seems to reach their stretch goals, and management congratulates itself on generating an unbroken string of double-digit growth.

Organizational audits conducted by the Josephson Institute reveal that a high percentage of employees who feel pressured to achieve ever-escalating numerical goals ignore or defer problems and manipulate or falsify reports to help them “hit their numbers.” The deceptive accounting tactics that caused a collapse of trust in Wall Street and the mortgage industry illustrate one coping strategy called “backing into the numbers.”

Look, pressure is no excuse for cheating, but it is a frequent cause. Responsible management needs to take into account the propensity of employees to tell them what they want to hear. There’s nothing wrong with aggressive growth and profit goals, but if organizations do not place an even higher value on character in their hiring, training, promotion, compensation, and discipline practices, all they will achieve is the illusion of success.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

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Comments 1

  1. Thank you for your August 21, 2012 commentary The Illusion of Success. After reading this on August 24, 2012 my thoughts are drawn to another great american tragedy, Lance Armstrong. I believe there is much to be learned from this no matter if one is a supporter or detractor of the historic athlete. I look forward to reading any insights you may offer. Thank you again for your inspiration.

    Sam P.

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