Many people think the best way to grow is by setting big goals – even Big Audacious Hairy Goals (BHAGs). But increasingly we're learning that goal setting is not correlated with success. At AmericanPublicRadio.org there's a partial text, and MP3 download, of a recent interview between General Motors leaders and a University of Arizona Professor titled "It's not always good to create goals."
The story relates how about a decade a go, with market share hovering at 25%, GM set the goal of moving back to 29%. It became a huge, multi-year campaign. Lapel pins with "29" were made and all kinds of motivational programs were put in place. The GM organization had its goal, and it was highly aligned to the goal. But it didn't happen. Despite the goal, and all the energy and talent put into focusing on the goal, GM continued to struggle, lose share – and eventually file bankruptcy. The goal made no difference.
Worse, the interview goes on to discuss how goals often lead to decidedly undesirable, sometimes unethical – even illegal – behavior. Instances are cited where goal obsession led company employees to falsify documents, even ship bricks in place of products to meet sales targets. No executive wants this, but goals and goal obsession – especially when there is a lot of reinforcement socially and monetarily on the goal – can become a serious problem.
Results are exactly that. Results. They are an outcome. They are the way we track our behaviors and activities – our decisions. When we focus on goals – usually some sort of result – we lose track of what is important. We have to focus on what we do. And for most organizations a big goal merely leads people to try working harder, faster,better, cheaper. But when the Success Formula is mis-aligned with the market – even when the whole organization is aligned on maximizing the Success Formula results will still struggle – even falter. Goals don't help you fix a Success Formula returning poor results. Just look at GM.
In fact, it can make matters worse. In "White Bears and Other Unwanted Thoughts" (available on Amazon.com) the authors point out that when you try to turn a negative (a problem) into a positive (a challenge, or goal), you often achieve a rebound effect making people obsess about the problem. Tell somebody not to think about a white bear – and it's all they think about. When your company has a problem and you try to tell employees "hey, don't think about the problem. Go do your job. Work harder, increase your focus, and all will work out. Sure share is down, but don't think about lost share, instead think about the goal of higher market share" frequently the employees will start to become obsessive about the problem. It will reinforce doing more of the same – perhaps manicly. Instead of becoming innovative and doing something new, obsessive devotion to trying to make the old methods produce better results becomes the norm. Goals don't produce innovation – they produce repetition.
So what should you do when facing a problem? Disruptions. GM didn't need a big goal. GM needed to Disrupt its broken Success Formula. GM needed to attack a Lock-in (or two). GM leaders needed to admit the market had shifted, and that competitors were changing the game. GM needed to recognize, admit and encourage employees to engage in attacking old assumptions – and recognize that market share would continue eroding if they didn't do things differently. Setting a big goal reinforced the old Lock-ins and even an aligned organization – working it's metaphorical tail off – couldn't make the outdated Success Formula produce positive results.
Only a Disruption would have helped save GM. After attacking some Lock-ins, like the desire to move all customers to bigger and more expensive cars, or the desire to focus on long production runs, GM should have set up White Space teams to discover new Success Formulas. Instead of putting all its management energy and money into growing volume at Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GM nameplates, General Motors leadership should have revitalized the innovative Saturn and Saab to do new things – to develop new approaches that would be more competitive. Instead of pushing Hummer to have 3 identical cars in 3 sizes, GM leadership should have unleashed Hummer to explore the market for truly unique, limited production vehicles. GM should have allowed Pontiac to really take advantage of the design breakthroughs happening at the Australian design studio – to change the nameplate into a performance car segment leader. By attacking Lock-ins, Disrupting, and using White Space GM really could have turned around. Instead, by creating a BHAG GM reinforced its focus on its Hedgehog concept – and drove the company into bankruptcy.
Read free ebook on "The Fall of GM: What Went Wrong and How To Avoid Its Mistakes"