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Thursday, April 17, 2014 | Last updated: 5:15pm

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UA professor focuses research on goal setting



A UA professor is focusing on her past research to help with a new study regarding goal setting.

Lisa Ordonez, a professor of management and organizations, is working on a new study that looks more closely at the ethics of reaching goals. Her article, which will be published in the Academy of Management Journal later this year, will delve into the reasoning behind the use of unethical behavior to attain success and how it can be stopped.

Her new article will stem directly from the information she found in a previous study, which suggests that overly specific goals can lead to degraded performance and unethical behavior. This article was one of the first to suggest that setting goals may not be an “almighty” way to improve motivation and yield of employees, but actually a damaging crutch to overall performance.

In 2009, Ordonez collaborated with business professors from the University of Pennsylvania, Northwestern University and Harvard to write “Goals Gone Wild: The Systematic Side Effects of Over-Prescribing Goal Setting”, where she questions the effectiveness and benefits of goal setting in management.

The side effects of goal setting include a narrowed focus, causing the neglect of non-goal related areas, loss of organization, reduced motivation and a high likelihood of risky and unethical behavior, as stated in the article. The solution to reduce these side effects are laid out by the authors who suggest rather than treating a goal like a basic stimulus it needs to be carefully supervised and the goal setter should be mindful of potential side effects.

Although her previous publication focused solely on goal setting from a management perspective, Ordonez emphasized that the same problems occur with all goal setting including personal ambitions and academics. The professors propose that goal setting is not only a simple motivator, but also a dynamic process that needs careful preparation and observation.

“The biggest goal for a UA student is getting a job, right?” Ordonez asked. “But if you are so focused on getting a job, you might not take those interesting classes that would have led you to your career.”

Ordonez said the professors acknowledge and accept the power and influence of goal setting in business, specifically on employee behavior and performance, but argue that the benefits of goal setting have been overstated throughout history and the harms have been majorly ignored.

“It’s not that we are saying don’t use goals, just think it through first,” Ordonez said.

“Goals Gone Wild” uses the metaphor of prescription drugs, explaining that in the past, goals were treated like a “benign, over-the-counter treatment for motivation.” Therefore, now, in order to make the practice of goal setting more successful, “managers and scholars need to conceptualize goal setting as a prescription-strength medication that requires careful dosing, consideration of harmful side effects, and close supervision,” according to the paper.

Some students agree that goal setting is more complex and that setting overly specific goals could prove unhelpful.

“If you get too specific with a goal it could detract from the rest of your life,” said Lucy Randazzo, a English freshman. “If your goal is too specific or too broad it won’t be successful.”

However, other students believe a good balance and use of goals could help in achieving success.

“It’s just important that students balance,” said Kate Hickey, an English and Gender and Women’s studies junior. “You have to do stuff now rather than later in order to get the stuff you want later.”


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