Seven Deadly Sins of Setting and Communicating Goals


The goals set are not relevant to the business, or to a section of the business.

For example, a gender goal is set on diversity of people involved in a business, where the pool of talent to from which recruitment may occur is almost exclusively one gender or another.


The goals set are impractical.

For example, a supervisor of a call centre has an objective related to selling to incoming callers who are calling to lodge a complaint. Any objective set is still likely to be too low for the reality of trying to sell something to a person who presently has such a poor perception of your service, that they have overcome the inertia to call to complain.


There are too many goals.

When I was general manager of Shell Fiji, I had to report on outcomes to an office in Melbourne for financial outcomes and to five other offices in Melbourne, London and The Hague on outcomes such as Health Safety and Environment and the Marine and Aviation businesses. In all, I had 96 key performance indicators – not indicators, but key performance indicators – to report on and manage to set targets or ranges. It was, of course impossible.

There is an old proverb which goes along the lines of: “When you chase two rabbits, you will catch none”.  When it comes to objectives, once you get past about four or five, it is almost a given that two of the objectives will be opposed to each other.


Goals are set that do not reflect the interest of the individuals for whom they have been set.

This is less an issue about setting goals and is more about having the wrong people in roles or not making sufficient effort to find ways to align an individual’s vision for themselves with the organisation’s vision, by understanding what their passions in life are.


The people for whom the goals are set have pre-conceived notions on what the goals should be. Or they have misconceptions about how the goal is expressed or measured, which are at odds with the intent of the goal.

It is the accountability of the leader setting the goal to ensure that those responsible for achieving the goal are clear on what it means and how to measure it.  Whilst we may shake our head at how people can misinterpret what we want them to achieve, we only need to look in a mirror to see the root source of our frustration.


Goals are set with a negative connotation. The negative connotation demotivates people given the responsibility of achieving the goal.

Some advice which is equally applicable to pilots and leaders is to stay focused on staying in the air and not on avoiding the trees. Re-frame negative goals to positive ones.

For example, in my early career in Shell, there was a target set to reduce lost time injuries. It worked well. People started to hide lost time injuries. The objective was reached, but with serious unintended consequences.  Some time later, the objectives were changed to reporting unsafe acts and unsafe conditions, completing risk assessments etc. Lost time injury frequencies dropped over a ten year period by more than 50%.


The goals are inadequate to give direction to our people. The goals we set focus on a single area and do not give balance to the expectations we have of our people’s performance.

For example, in sales we may focus on the top line sales figure only. This would be inadequate. In sales, we want to make sure that not only do we sell enough, but that we also do not discount the price that it becomes unprofitable. We also want to ensure that people pay us on time and that we do not hurt people or the environment in our sales activities. That would indicate goals with regard to sales, gross margin, credit and health, safety and environment.

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