The Myth of Measurement: When Achieving Goals Gets in the Way of Success (Part I)

Are you set on achieving goals in 2020? Goal-setters, beware! Those very goals may hinder more than they help. Caution, managers and 360 coaches. You may want to re-think those SMART goals you’ve been inflicting on your employees and coachees. These measurements may be holding them back.

Having spent the past 20 years as a SMART Goal advocate (with the Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-dimensioned acronym permanently tattooed on my arm… or one would think), I’m beginning to rethink my strategy.

Don’t get me wrong. Goals help you focus, and many people start with SMART goals to put them in the right direction. However, I’ve seen too many people give up and even digress when they don’t meet short-term milestones. This may lead to all-or-nothing thought patterns where success is determined by whether or not you hit the metric, versus have you moved closer towards the goal by accomplishing smaller objectives. Secondly, the emphasis is often too narrowly focused on the metric, rather than what the measurement represents (or is a part of).

Man at gym achieving fitness goals

When Achieving Goals Gets in the Way of Success

For example, many of us strive for better health. We realize that exercise supports a healthy lifestyle. Therefore, you choose a short-term goal like exercising for 40 minutes, 5 times per week. Unfortunately, a hectic week at work only allowed you to work out 3 times. Failure.

Really? Remember, your ultimate goal was to be more healthy. You’ve likely progressed toward that goal, even though you may have missed a short-term step in that direction. Yet strict focus on the goal, versus the end objective, tends to prompt all-or-nothing thinking; You’re so focused on the immediate goal that you forget it is primarily a step in getting closer to the desired end result. Sadly, the same situation plays out over and over again in organizational settings.

Busy airport

When Metrics and the Customer Experience Collide

Several months ago I waited in line at a busy airline counter with approximately 100 other passengers.  It was clear that the bottleneck was the lone customer service rep charged with helping this mass of passengers, some of which had been in line for over 90 minutes.  To make matters worse, the self-serve check-in kiosks for this airline were down.

Having arrived over an hour early myself, I had plenty of time to chat with the other passengers, and soon found that we all had the same flight and destination.  Clearly, because of the poor customer service, we would all be late for our flight.  Surprisingly, 30 minutes before the scheduled departure, the agent announced she was shutting down the line, as the airline “needed to ensure an on-time departure.”

I’m sure this comforted the 20 passengers who managed to get on the flight, but imagine the fury of the 100+ left in line.  This airline’s customer service metric (on-time departure) was, in this case, the very reason it provided such poor customer service.  I know I’ll be avoiding this airline whenever possible.  I hope they enjoy their customer service bonus.

Ironically, when focusing solely on the goal, we might miss the goal entirely.

Have you seen this metric-versus-end-goal scenario play out in your organization?  How does your organization ensure that achieving goals and metrics don’t detract from the end objective?

Related Post: The Myth of Measurement: Risking lives for a goal (Part II)

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