This is a video excerpt from The Freethinking Leader Coalition, unpacking the third lie in Marcus and Ashley’s upcoming book, Nine Lies about Work. To view the full video, read book excerpts, and engage with the authors, join here by pre-ordering the book. To learn more about The Freethinking Leader Coalition, click here.
Almost every person in the world of work has come across cascaded goals at some point in his or her career – and most likely it’s been a constant in yours. Each year you are expected to fill out several goals that must align to your manager’s, and hers to her manager’s, and up and up the chain all the way to your CEO. Once you’ve written your goals for the year, you immediately forget about them – that is, until the end of the year rolls around and you’re expected to rate yourself on how well you have achieved these goals (that you’ve probably forgotten about). You have to make sure that your evaluation of yourself isn’t too glowing – after all, you don’t want it to seem like your goals were too easy – and just hard enough that you were able to achieve some of them. Your team leader will then have to give you a rating, and then finally you can breathe out – until the whole process starts up again.
Even at face value, these cascaded goals feel unnecessary and irrelevant. But companies use them for three purposes:
Alignment: The CEO believes that if he or she can cascade goals from the top down to the bottom of the organization, the organization will be aligned.
Tracking progress: Companies also use goals to track progress throughout the year, thinking that if a team leader can go in and see that their team is, say, 52% complete with 32% of their goals, they can use that information to understand if they are on track or not.
Evaluation: At the end of the year, your goals are used to evaluate you. How many you completed (or didn’t complete) can affect your salary, your bonus, and your future at your company.
Unfortunately, goals don’t actually do any of these three things at all.
Goals don’t align companies. Once you get two or three levels below the CEO, the goals become theoretical and abstract. If they were really going to help the organization stay aligned throughout the course of the year, people would go in and check them – and probably more than once. And yet, less than 5% of employees look at their goals once after they’ve set them.
Goals don’t track progress. Goal attainment isn’t linear; it’s binary. Let’s say your goal is to run a marathon, and you’ve completed the first 13 miles. Does that mean that you are 50% done with your marathon? Perhaps technically, but anyone who has run the full 26 miles knows that 90% of the effort comes in the last three or four miles. You can’t be 50% done with a goal, you can only complete it or not complete it.
You can’t use goals to evaluate people. To evaluate you against a coworker, your team leader would have to perfectly calibrate your goals against theirs. We would have to achieve perfect inter-rater reliability in order to judge two completely different people by their five completely different goals – and as I hope you know by now, that’s impossible.
Goals are useful when they enable us to make manifest something inside of ourselves that we deem valuable. The only way for them to be valuable is if we set them for ourselves, voluntarily. If they come from within. If a goal is imposed on you from above, or cascaded upon you, it’s an un-goal and it no longer serves any purpose at all.
To learn the truth, join the Freethinking Leader Coalition.