Are You Setting Work Goals That Are Too Hard (or Too Easy?)

Ring Toss Game RopesResearchers brought two groups of people together for some testing on goal setting. One group had been identified as low performers and the other as high performers. The researchers wanted to find out if there were any differences in the way the two groups approached setting goals.

To test a theory they had developed, the researchers used a ring-toss game and gave each group the following instructions: Take these three rings and go into the adjoining room. You will find a stake on a stand in the center of the room. Practice getting the rings on the stake.

The researchers then watched through one-way glass to see if the high performers approached the task of practicing differently than the low performing group. They noticed a striking difference.

The group identified as low performers didn’t do much goal setting for themselves. Some members of the group saw the stake in the center of the room, walked right up to it and placed all three rings on the stake and left the room–they set goals that were too easy and not very motivating.  At the other end of the spectrum, some members of the low performing group saw the stake in the center of the room, moved away from it as far as they could and tried to hit the stake from all the way across the room–they set goals that were too difficult or even impossible to reach.

The behavior of the high performing group was distinctively different. The members of the high performing group saw the stake in the middle of the room and placed themselves a couple of feet away for their initial toss. If they missed, they tried again, or moved a little closer. If they made it, they moved a little farther away for their next toss. This group set practice goals for themselves that were just the right amount of difficulty.  They went to great lengths to keep themselves engaged in the task by setting goals that took them just to the edge—or a little beyond—their present capabilities.

How are your goals looking for the coming year?

As you set goals for the coming year, it’s important to find the right amount of difficulty. Have you set goals for yourself that are too easy? Too easy may seem like a smart play but it is unlikely to bring out your best performance.  Chances are you’ll put the task on auto-pilot and follow a routine similar to the previous year.  Have you blindly agreed to goals that are too difficult? You’ll probably deem the task as unrealistic, not make a serious effort toward attaining it now, and hope to reset properly later on.

Get yourself off to a fast start in 2016. Set goals that are just the right amount of difficulty.  Challenge yourself to higher levels of performance.  Goals that are just out of reach are usually the ones we are most compelled to achieve!

PS: Still working on your 2016 goals? Could you use a little encouragement? Join Ken Blanchard for a free webinar on January 27. Managers and teams from around the world will being joining Ken for a hands-on goal setting class where everyone will set their goals for 2016. The event is free courtesy of Cisco Webex and The Ken Blanchard Companies. Learn more here.

2 thoughts on “Are You Setting Work Goals That Are Too Hard (or Too Easy?)

  1. What is the name of the study where the people had to use the ring-toss game? I need to quote it for a speech I’m giving in class. Thanks!

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