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Formal versus real goals

management, business, business goals, administration, planning, leading, organizing, directing, staffing

Such goals as the mission statement and operational goals, created by management and specifically stated, are the organization’s formal goals. Formal goals can be created on a number of different dimensions. Although these formal statements of goals are useful, putting too much credence in formal goals may be misleading. First, it is clear that organizational goals will sometimes conflict with one another. For example, universities espouse such goals as faculty teaching, research, and public service. Yet for any faculty member these goals conflict; to the extent that she engages in one of these activities, the other two are left wanting. Large bureaucratic organizations, struggling to remain competitive, simultaneously try to encourage innovation while clinging to standard practices and controls that stifle creativity.

The constant tension between formal goals and actual organizational behavior adds to the difficulty of accepting the formal goal model of organizations. Because of the shortcomings of the formal goal model of organizations, models began to appear that discussed operative or real goals. Operative goals are those ends sought through the actual operating policies of the organization; they tell us what the organization is actually trying to do, regardless of what the official goals say are the aims. Another researcher uses the term real goals to refer to these perhaps unstated but significant pursuits. Real goals are those future states toward which a majority of the organization’s means and the major organizational commitments of the participants are directed, and which, in cases of conflict with goals which are stated but command few resources, have clear priority.

Taking the view of goals as operative or real has the advantage of recognizing that goals are distilled from both formal and informal sources and that they are the consequences of interactions and bargaining among organizational members. These views also recognize the importance of power to the formation of goals. Finally, they suggest that a way to understand organizational goals is to examine actual organizational processes, including the allocation of resources to specific programs and activities.

A problem in attempting to identify operative or real goals has to do with measurement. One measure what is visible to measure, but this may have little to do with what is really important to the organization. Investigators must open themselves to unusual approaches in the search for operative goals. In the investigation of a company, it may be necessary to look beyond such traditional measures as profitability to employee turnover rations, product quality, or overall stability.

Other considerations complicate formal goal models. There is the problem of whose goals one has to consider. At one extreme it can be argued that the goal of organization members perfectly reflect organizational goals. But such is not the case, forcing the researcher to identify the disparity between individual and organizational goals. In fact, it seems obvious that any organization would have large numbers of individual goals, some of which any conflict with each other, and some of which are inconsistent with the organization’s goals. The managerial difficulties are clear. The question becomes, how does an organization accommodate these differences in formulating a clear set of goals? Some recent discussions of what organizations need to do to perform effectively focus on how top managers must reconcile competing values through using metaphors, image, and other integrative devices.
Published: 2007-04-14
Author: Martin Hahn

About the author or the publisher
Martin Hahn PhD has received his education and degrees in Europe in organizational/industrial sociology. He grew up in South-East Asia and moved to Europe to get his tertiary education and gain experience in the fields of scientific research, radio journalism, and management consulting.

After living in Europe for 12 years, he moved to South-East again and has worked for the last 12 years as a management consultant, university lecturer, corporate trainer, and international school administrator

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