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Can Setting Goals be Harmful? Three Ways to Protect Your Organisation

4 April 2013 at 10:08 am
Staff Reporter
An over-emphasis on goal setting and success can be harmful unless Not for Profits develop the policies and practices of an ethical workplace where people put the interests of the organisation first, according to business adviser Ruth Knight.

Staff Reporter | 4 April 2013 at 10:08 am


Can Setting Goals be Harmful? Three Ways to Protect Your Organisation
4 April 2013 at 10:08 am

An over-emphasis on goal setting and success can be harmful unless Not for Profits develop the policies and practices of an ethical workplace where people put the interests of the organisation first and foremost every day, according to business adviser Ruth Knight.

Most organisations today encourage their staff to regularly undertake goal-setting. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that setting goals and working towards achieving them can inspire employees and powerfully improve individual and organisational performance.

Have you ever considered, though, whether there are any side effects associated with goal-setting?

These side effects can include a rise in unethical behaviour and a corrosion of organisational culture, according to a report, Goals Gone Wild: The Systematic Side Effects of Over-Prescribing Goals Setting. The authors of the report state that if employees are too focussed on reaching a goal, and bad things can happen if they fail, the incidence of cheating and unethical behaviour increases.

Unfortunately Not for Profit organisations are not immune to unethical behaviour, especially when there is an emphasis on meeting fundraising targets, there is no compliance monitoring in place, or there is a lack of policy and procedures about how to report misconduct and unethical behaviour.

If you are wondering what types of unethical behaviours are most common, the National Nonprofit Ethics Survey gives some insight.

It reports that putting your own interests ahead of the organisation is the most common type of misconduct. The report states that Not for Profits face severe risk from behaviours such as conflicts of interest, lying to employees, misreporting hours worked, abusive behaviour, and internet abuse. However, behaviours such as safety violations, discrimination and misusing confidential information are also serious types of misconduct seen throughout the sector.

Be under no illusion: these behaviours can damage your organisational culture and staff morale, lead to mistrust and absenteeism, and even damage your staff’s health and commitment to the organisation.

The costs associated with unethical behaviour can be enormous, and can put your organisation’s reputation and brand at serious risk.

The good news is that protecting your organisation and improving your workplace culture is possible and does not have to cost much. There are substantial benefits from implementing an ethics and compliance program that is led by the Board and embedded throughout the whole organisation.

So what can a board do to protect its reputation and promote a strong ethical culture within their organisation?

First, conducting an assessment will allow you to find out if any misconduct and fraud is already taking place. Consult with all levels of the organisation to find out how people currently make ethical decisions and what areas of risk your organisation is facing.

Review your current code of ethics if you have one, and determine how effective it is. Importantly, you should also assess what people do when they see misconduct and how misconduct is treated within the organisation. If people are not reporting these issues appropriately, then your code of ethics is not working effectively or there are issues to be dealt with at a board or management level.

After conducting your assessment, then your aim should be to:

1. Develop and implement a code of ethics,
2. Implement a compliance process, and
3. Develop a strong ethical workplace culture.

Your code of ethics should guide staff and management about how to make ethical decisions, the organisation’s expectations regarding personal and professional integrity, and how to report misconduct and unethical behaviour.

Your compliance process should monitor ethical practice within all levels of the organisation. An effective compliance process will mean that board members and employees will feel less pressure to compromise their ethical standards, and be more likely to report misconduct if necessary.

Finally, developing an ethical workplace culture requires the board, management and staff being open and transparent on a daily basis, promoting ethical behaviour at every opportunity, and attending training about their role and responsibilities in regards to ethical practice and decision making.

It also involves having a whistle-blowers’ policy and disciplinary procedures for ethical misconduct or noncompliance, however small.

In conclusion, do not stop your staff setting goals and motivating them to achieve the best for themselves or your organisation. However, be mindful that an emphasis on success can be harmful unless you develop the policies and practices of an ethical workplace where people put the interests of the organisation first and foremost every day.

Download a free Practice Guide about the steps to developing an ethical workplace. 

About the author: Ruth Knight is a Queensland-based trainer, consultant and business advisor. She has a Masters of Business from QUT, she is an Associate Fellow of the Australian Institute of Management, and a Member of the Australian Human Resources Institute.  

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  • Harry Harry says:

    You may want to check out http://www.GoalsOnTrack.com/, a very nicely built web app designed for tracking goals, habits, and todo lists, and supports time tracking too. It’s clear, focused, easy to navigate, and most of all, really works!

  • Dan Dan says:

    If you’d like a tool for setting your goals, you can use this web application:


    You can use it to manage your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, and a calendar.
    Syncs with Evernote and Google Calendar, and also comes with mobile version, and Android and iPhone apps.

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