A Poor Workman Blames His Tools

Today I read an article in the February issue of The Academy of Management Perspectives journal called "Goals Gone Wild: The Systematic Side Effects of Overprescribing Goal Setting," jointly written by four PhD's from four prestigious universities.

[Side note: The reason I have only now gotten to read this article is that my copy of the magazine must have gotten stuck in a US Post Office machine of some kind. It arrived, in yesterday's mail, looking like it had been torn out of the clenched teeth of a rabid dog. No note of apology, about the savaged condition of the item, from the Post Office either.]

When this article came out in February, I remember hearing about it. It caused a bit of a stir.

The gist of the piece is that the well-researched and long-established management practice of setting goals may have inadvertently contributed to many of the corporate debacles (e.g. Enron) and social ills that have caused the economic catastrophe we are now experiencing.

In the same issue of the AOM journal, professors Gary Latham and Edwin Locke, both recognized as the foremost authorities on goal setting, fired back, in an article called "Has Goal Setting Gone Wild, or Have Its Attackers Abandoned Good Scholarship?"

Latham was quoted in an article in the Boston Globe. "You know how Shakespeare wrote that the fault is not in our stars but in ourselves?" asks Latham, a professor at the University of Toronto. "Well, the fault is not in our goals but in our values."

I side with Latham. I'm reminded of an old proverb that says "It's a poor workman who blames his tools" for his poor quality output and his failed results.

Let's not blame the goals for our screw-ups. Goals are tools. Instead, leaders should take a good, long, honest look in the mirror.

Posted by Terrence Seamon, April 8, 2009


Frode H said…
Great. This is so true. As a leader you need to be able to do your profession with high quality, even if the tools are crap. This again means carrying out your mission based on your values, and you can not go wrong.
Terrence Seamon said…
Hi Frode,
Welcome to my blog. Glad you stopped by. I just visited your blog and I like what I see there. I'll stop by and leave a comment.

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