There was an interesting experiment done by the American Pulpwood Association when they were looking to increase the productivity of loggers. Half of the loggers were given a specific, high goal to achieve. The other half were encouraged to do their best.
The people who were assigned goals started bragging to one another as well as to family members as to their effectiveness as loggers. Productivity soared relative to those crews who were urged to do their best. Goal-setting instilled purpose, challenge, and meaning into what had been perceived previously as a tedious and physically tiresome task. A by-product of the goal intervention was that, within the week, employee attendance soared, relative to attendance in those crews who were randomly assigned to the condition where no goals were set.
(Academy of management Executive 2004, Vol. 18, No.4 pg 126)
The article lists four reasons that setting goals can help increase productivity:
- People with goals will divert more effort to the achievement of those goals. They are less likely to waste time on unproductive effort when they have something concrete that can be measured to pursue.
- Goals help energize people. It is more exciting to have something specific that you are trying to achieve.
- People with high goals tend to be more persistent. Just having something concrete to pursue can increase your endurance. Swimmers trying to set distance records in the fog do not last as long as
swimmers who can see the land that is their goal.
- People with goals are more likely to seek out knowledge that will help them obtain their goals.
All of these items can apply equally to setting goals for yourself. By defining your goals, you are creating a sort of competition where you can conquer and “win”. Just working hard and “doing your best” is good, but as humans, we respond with much more energy to a challenge–even if it is of our own making.
I know this is an archived post, but I’d like to comment. One of the problems is that we, as a society, have not defined “doing your best” AS a goal. This would need to start in the very early years of education. I’d suggest we take the word “just” out of the directive: “Just do your best!” This minimizes the idea of personal best, which actually, is a very potent component of goal-setting.
The key question is “What is MY best?” And out of that, spring the goals that you are talking about. It doesn’t mean we have to set goals that are the most superlative of all our abilities, but goals that, if achieved and streamline productivity, do define our best. :-)
Mark Shead says
@Rebecca – I think the issue with “do your best” is that it isn’t very concrete. I have no idea what my absolute best is in pretty much any area. Lets say I can run a mile in 5 minutes. Is that my best? By trying just a little harder, I could probably run it in 4:58. My “best” is a constantly moving target.
What happened in the case of the loggers, is that they were given an outside means of measuring success that didn’t change. They could tell if they were being successful or not. The group that was just trying to do their best, didn’t really know if they were being successful. It is kind of hard to come home and brag “I did my best at logging today.” But it is easy to come home and say “I cut down 75 trees and the average logger only does 50.”
That being said, I think that we need to place more emphasis on doing our best and recognize that simply being better than average doesn’t mean we are accomplishing what we are truly capable of.
One of the easiest ways to make sure we are doing our best is to give ourself a concrete goal that is easy to measure. As our skills develop we can set the goal higher and higher.