I am a strong advocate of Evidence-Based Management. Bob Sutton and Jeff Pfeffer provide some of the best thinking on EBM, and I often quote passages from their books The Knowing-Doing Gap, and Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths, and Total Nonsense here in my articles.
But honestly, it can be very difficult to implement sometimes. There is an OCEAN of peer-reviewed, scientific research out there on a number of subjects, so just sorting though it can be a challenge even for folks like me that are trained to do so. And many times after reading what appears to be an important article in a high quality journal, I have one of three reactions when I think of how I would explain the relevance of the research to practicing managers:
1. Huh? What the heck did they just say?
2. Ok, I get what you are saying, but what am I supposed to do with this?
3. Is that it? There is really nothing radically new here.
To make things even more challenging, even the best researchers often disagree about what the evidence really says.
There is a UGLY debate about goal setting that has found its way into the publication Academy of Management Perspectives. The debate is about whether our knowledge concerning the effectiveness of goal setting is so well established it cannot be questioned, or whether there is still more important knowledge yet to be discovered.
On one side we have four extremely well trained scholars from Harvard Business School, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern, and the University of Arizona. These scholars contend that goal setting is like a prescription-strength medication that can have “both powerful positive effects and formidable negative side effects” (p. 83). A summary of their research was printed in The Economist in March 2009.
On the other side of the debate are Edwin Locke and Gary Latham. Locke’s website states that the Locke and Latham goal setting theory was ranked #1 in importance among management theories. Locke and Latham conclude the “attacks on goal setting, full of sound and fury,….are much ado about nothing.” (p. 91). Locke and Latham cast the four scholars that question the efficacy of goal setting as practicing dubious science and ethics, and they are in turn labeled by the opposition as “Scholars Gone Wild.” This is as nasty as it gets.
Is goal setting “a slam dunk?” Or are there significant limits to the effects of this prescription that we still need to learn and document more rigorously? I prefer to pitch my tent in the camp with those still on the journey of learning. If you think you know it all, you have nothing left to learn. That’s the cause of a demise that you won’t see coming until it is too late.
As Sutton and Pfeffer point out, “even the best medicine has side effects.” I’ll give you more of my anecdotal observations on goal setting in a future post. Stay tuned!
About the Author: Bret L. Simmons
Sites That Link to this Post
- Goal Setting: A Few Anecdotal Observations. « Bret L. Simmons | August 14, 2009
- LeaderLab » The Practical Insignificance Of Exceptional Management Research | January 3, 2011