Silver Bullet Fables – part 1 – targets

Targets

There is this wonderfully persistent idea that keeping your eye on a target and doing whatever it takes to attain that target will give you the best chance of achieving success. Your managers and even your parents may have pushed this approach ahead of doing things in a way that you can be proud of. Achieving the target was all that mattered.

This is the silver bullet approach to managing your life or career and it has an amazing weakness. When you commit to doing everything necessary to achieving a goal or target, you can set yourself up to be despised instead of being admired.

Why? Because the goal can become more important than how it is achieved! Others will only remember that you did not get results honestly.

So much attention is put in achieving goals in business and in schools that cheating or falsification of results is deemed less important than missing the goal.

When a student is not able to learn fast enough to keep up in school, the pressure to show success and to graduate often becomes more than the person can resist and she or he cheats.

When a group in a company finds that a product is not ready to ship and this will cost them bonus money or even cost them jobs, the temptation is to falsify test results, ship the product anyway and leave the problems for others to fix.

Targets are not achieved by accident. They are the result of focused effort and persistence. When the targets become mere statistics instead of real achievements, this opens the door to all kinds of corporate and individual insanity.

Some of you who have been in sales have experienced such extreme pressure to close sales by a certain date that you did whatever was necessary to close the deal. I have watched several companies go under after enough of these unprofitable deals were closed.

I worked for one sales manager who didn’t care how many people we upset on the phone as long as we met our quota of orders. The bad word of mouth reports spread so fast that it permanently affected sales.

This focus on a target to the exclusion of the methods used to achieve it results in the discrediting of otherwise good ideas.  The target could be saving the earth or endangered species, but criminal acts or blatant hypocrisy can discredit the entire idea.

Global warming pundits jetting off to Bali for high visibility meetings do more environmental damage than the populations they pretend to be saving.

Candidates for office may justify covering up crimes in order to be elected and "serve" the people. They also rewrite history in an effort to erase earlier viewpoints they now say they never held.

Even retail establishments can place such emphasis on making goals that employees will lie in order to deflect criticism from customers. Try telling the employees at Michaels that their bathrooms are out of paper and see what happens.

Achieving a target in a way that you can be proud of lets you end cycle and move on to other targets. Cheating your way to achieving a target leaves open issues that will always come back to haunt you, even if you go on to achieve nobler things.

If your working life is not what you want it to be, you might see if you are being driven to make targets, "no matter what it takes!"

Thanks to the Applications Team at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory for their version of this classic illustration.

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