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The Function and Dysfunctions of Goals

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

Goals are both functional and dysfunctional; they can serve or detract from both individual and organizational performance.

Goals can have five functions in organizations:
1.They focus attention or provide direction for managers in their attempts to acquire and use resources;
2.They serve as a rationale for organizing;
3.They serve as standards of assessment for organizations, against which judgments can be made about organizational effectiveness and efficiency. Opening virtually any annual report reveals this function of goals;
4.They constitute a source of legitimacy for an organization that justifies its activities and existence to diverse groups;
5.They assist the organization in acquiring human resources. Apple Computer’s goal of creating a more formal corporate system led it to hire John Sculley, a manager successful in running consumer – goods companies.

Goals can have five functions to serve for individuals:
1.They provide direction for one’s job;
2.They provide a rationale for working and sometimes a sense of meaning to an otherwise pointless job;
3.They may serve as a vehicle for personal attainment;
4.They provide a sense of psychological security;
5.They can provide a source of identification and status for employees.

Unfortunately, goals can be dysfunctional as well. One potential pitfall of organizational goals has been discussed already in the section on goal displacement; when the means becomes the end, the organization suffers.

Further, the emphasis that goals place on the measurable can be harmful. Managers may ignore qualitative goals in favor of such measurable goals as profits and sales. A last dysfunction of organizational goals derives from their expression. Goals stated too ambiguously may fail to provide adequate direction, yet highly specific goals may constrain creativity.

These dysfunctions of organizational goals apply to individuals as well, but there are also other problems with goals that are unique to individual behavior. Where reward systems are not designed to reward goal – directed behavior directly, goal attainment will not be maximized. Instead, employees will pursue activities that they can expect will have greater personal payoffs. When reward systems attempt to reflect goal – directed activity, it is often difficult to identify performance criteria that can be used as evidence of goal attainment. For instance, if profit is a company’s goal, how can one evaluate the company’s public relations program that is designed to increase the public’s perception to define goals appropriately to the position of an individual to prevent this problem?

Another dysfunction occurs in establishing the level of a goal. While goals can be motivating factors, establishing an aim for individuals while making effective use of their motivating capability requires careful thought. A goal set too low provides inadequate challenge for motivation. A goal set too high, because it is perceived as impossible, is no motivator either.
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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