Thoughts about hr and management in the real world – extra information I couldn't fit in my books!.

Are goals actually bad for us?

My entire career, all our management and HR training here at Elephant and the advice and support we give to businesses is based on the idea that fundamentally people need to have goals to achieve. This creates a focus for what we’re working on, it taps into the meaning motivator of knowing what the outcome is going to be and means that companies can measure what’s being done.

But recently I’ve been wondering whether goals are actually bad for us?

This month I’m doing NaNoWrimo (National Novel Writing Month). Every November over 350,000 people from around the world sign up for the madness of trying to write a 50,000 word book over a month.

There are really clear goals to achieve. Each day you have to write 1,667 words to end up with 50,000 at the end of the month. You log into the site and enter your words in and there’s a handy bar chart which shows you where you’re supposed to be, and where you are. There’s even a higher level more meaningful vision – that at the end you’ll have a first draft of a book!

The problem is that this year I didn’t start well. November has been busy for us and I haven’t put enough time aside to write. So I started badly, didn’t reach my targets for the first 3 days so then stopped writing altogether (as you can see from my graph).


And I tell you what, when you’re not achieving your goals, it’s miserable. I knew that it was completely in my control to sit down and write and try and catch up. But it seemed too hard. Like when you start a diet and then after a few days you eat a piece of cake. Many of then figure we’ve failed that day so may as well eat a pizza and chips too. Or you start on a new exercise programme and after the initial enthusiasm has worn off, you miss a day. Then you feel so bad about it you stop exercising altogether. It seems overwhelming.

Goals are great the start. If you chunk them down it looks achievement, measurable, time framed (yes all the SMART stuff).

But when you’re not achieving them – I wonder how many of us just feel miserable and awful and more demotivated than if we didn’t have them there in the first place. It was an awful week and I couldn’t stop thinking how behind I was.

And then of course yesterday I rallied. My husband listened to me complaining about how behind I was and said “But you’ve been behind before and you’ve still achieved it. You will this time”.

I’d forgotten to believe in myself, but he still did. And so I decided that I could do this thing. Yes I had crashed and burned but it wasn’t too late. And yesterday and today I’ve managed about 3,300 words. My little graph is going up again. It’s still woefully behind, but it’s on the up.

So I’m wondering are goals actually bad for us when we’re not achieving them? But is that feeling bad something that then makes getting back on track better? Can we do it without any help or is it having someone believing in us that makes the difference?

Maybe this is the conversation we need to have with managers. Do they show their teams that they believe in them so that when goals aren’t being achieved, and team morale is low, the team can bounce back.

The big issue is that if it’s not in our control to change then we shouldn’t have the goal.

Anyway that’s all I have time for today. I need to go and write another few thousands words…….

2 comments on “Are goals actually bad for us?

  1. Amanda Sterling
    November 17, 2014

    Do you have a section in your book about goal setting? You could copy and paste this blog, it’s still word count! 😉

  2. angelaatkins
    November 17, 2014

    I love your thinking!! Now I’m back on track I’m feeling motivated about getting to 50,000. I’m now thinking perhaps really specific day by day goals suit some personality types but for others it’s too restrictive and demotivating. Another case of the same concept having to apply differently to different people…. If I take that angle I can add it into my book!! Hope your word count is going well too.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


This entry was posted on November 14, 2014 by in Uncategorized.
%d bloggers like this: