COMMENTARY: 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.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

Comments 5

  1. Well said! I agree with you that lying and cheating are wrong, but management executives who try to manipulate their employees are also behaving unethically. I believe that people in authority have a special responsibility to treat people fairly.

  2. Hi Michael,
    While absolutely agreeing with your comments, I like to think of another angle to this issue. Instilling good morals and decent values in our children are paramount.
    As a grandfather, I noticed that often, we give children the choice to “reach for the stars or suffer the consequences” This choice in itself sems to creat conflict.
    How about nurturing our offsprings to excel in the field the children show interest in. Example. One of my grandsons has always shown interest in the animal kingdom. At six years old he has show interest in taking up medical field for the anilmals. We can mould the child into this field with motivation of care and compassion OR showing the child the profitability of this or other profession.
    Lacking, care and compassion, the child is bound to be unhappy in picking profession not of his liking and could be tempted to take shortcuts in his work where money, rank and fame are the objectives.

    “Children are like arrows in your bow. Therefore, make sure that the arrow is pointed in the right direction when it leaves your bow cause once it has left you, the arrow cannot change the direction” …a saying by Prophet Mohamed

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