When Performance Goals Break Moral Standards


I came across this article today outlining how high-pressure expectations can lead to unethical behavior.

Study finds high-pressure expectations lead to unethical behavior

In our coaching programs, we discuss how we should set goals just outside our grasp but within our reach.  We also discuss the journey to achieve our goals and how that builds our character.

But this new study does something that hasn’t been done before. It establishes a relationship between high pressure performance goals and an increased probability of unethical behavior in real-world situations.

We know people will cut corners when they need to reach an outcome that they see as impossible to reach under normal circumstances but necessary for their “survival”. When faced with a choice of reaching a milestone or suffer a life-threatening loss, people will relax some or all the ethical restrictions they have in place. But I wonder if the researchers looked at examples where people were setting their own performance goals.

Goal Setting in the Dale Carnegie Programs

One of the principles we teach in our Leadership Training for Managers program is people support an environment that they help create. If they have a say in how the environment, product, or process is created, they are more apt to take personal ownership of the results. So, if your people have a say in setting the team’s performance goals, they will be more committed to achieving those goals.

In the Dale Carnegie Course, we coach people on setting their own personal and professional performance goals. They then spend a good part of the program performing various exercises to set, achieve, and review their performance goals. It’s a big part of the course. But the targets must come from the participant and they have to account for their values. The instructor merely facilitates the process, coaching participants along the way to keep them focused, directed, and motivated.

When setting goals for your team or yourself, remember that the process in attaining your goals is just as important as the goals themselves. That process builds the personal foundation that supports the result. After all, what good does it do to attain a goal that requires you to sacrifice your values and principles in the process? Or as it stated in the Bible: “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” [Matthew 16:26]

This means as managers and leaders, we must be cognizant of our people’s skills, abilities, and values. We must put them in situations where they can grow up, not be ground down.

We always want our people to step outside their comfort zones and challenge themselves. But not to the point where they feel like they must sacrifice their standards to insure their survival.

Here’s the article on the study.

Lead well!

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