The Right Type of Productivity: the right goals!


You know that goals give you focus; that goal setting (and action) helps set you up for success. I love goal setting every quarter. But it pays to check you’re setting the right goals to get the right productivity, or at least get the outcome you really want.

I recently watched Survivors Guide to Prison on Netflix, (I do like watching documentaries and crime shows, so this was a interesting blend), and then the next morning I caught an ABC news article that stated Victoria Police Officers Fake More Than 250,000 Roadside Breath Tests.

As I watched and read, one common, big critical point stood out to me: where you focus on targets will have an impact on how they are achieved.

Survivors Guide to Prison: in the documentary it was noted that the work of prosecutors are measured by how many cases they win, that is, how many they send to jail or prison. The problem this raises is that prosecutors are led into a win at all costs focus rather than being supported to focus on accuracy in evidence and legal process. Going to prison shouldn’t be the ultimate goal, as the documentary clearly showed many innocent people are incarcerated.


The fact that documentaries like this one are being made only highlights that the productivity the prosecutors, amongst other professions and businesses related to justice and prisons in the US, are achieving needs to be reviewed in light of how goals and targets are being achieved and the impact target achievement has on society and individuals directly.

Victorian Police Faking Breath Tests: “Unrealistic targets” was said to be a major driving force for officers faking the tests. In an interview with a police representative it was noted that this issue highlights the need for more resources. While I agree, it also highlights the need to look at how targets, KPI’s and goals are set. If officers have to be directed to reach targets, you need to expect that the target will be the driver of behaviour/performance.

Reaching the target will be the motivator! Prolonged focus on targets, added with a fear of falling short of reaching the targets, causes stress and potential to short cut or cheat. This is the wrong way to achieve productivity. As noted in the ABC article: “Officers may have made false tests to ‘highlight productivity’.”

At the end of the day, the productivity your team will achieve through unrealistic targets or ‘win at all costs’ will not last, will eventually come under scrutiny; will cause burnout with increased stress leave; and increased turnover. All the gains will become losses.

The Right Goals:

Lead: When you’re planning with your team, or setting goals during a performance review with a direct report, encourage the team or employee to lead the discussion. At the least they should have input so they can give an operational perspective.

Listen: Ask questions about what’s really going on and listen. Really listen. The people doing the work are perfectly positioned to tell you what’s really going on – the impact of targets.

Avoid Blame: If you ask, and listen, don’t shoot the messenger. Listen and learn with the intent to resolve, improve or fix, not punish.

Get Curious: Once a goal is set, explore the implications of achieving the goal. Asking, in the effort to achieve this goal is it implied or is there any suggestion of achieve at all costs, especially if those costs are detrimental?

Review: Even after all of these have been checked, be sure to review the goal, process and progress regularly to check that goals and targets haven’t been misinterpreted somewhere along the line and become a stressful, fear driven driver for poor or unethical behaviour.

I’d love to know your thoughts…





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2 responses to “The Right Type of Productivity: the right goals!”

  1. Lynn says:

    Hi Sally, I could not agree more, about your article, “The Right Goals”. It is a real problem in society today, to win at all costs.
    I remember the only time I “lied” about achieving a goal was in my first year of Grammar school. I had an English teacher who thought that it was achievable to read at least two novels in a week!
    Even the smartest in the class could not achieve it and by the end of the first few weeks, I learned how to read the cover of a novel absorb that and on a Monday report that I had read the whole thing, being able to give her a gist of what it was about.
    I hated lying, because I had been brought up to be honest, but that was survival!
    It did teach me a huge lesson of how not to push individuals beyond their capabilities and served me well when I had a business with 6 employees.
    I could do and often did their jobs when they were off sick and always said thank you to them at the end of the day for their efforts. All goals were generally accomplished and I had happy staff who were not afraid to tell me the truth.
    Best Regards,


    • sallyfoleylewis says:

      Thanks for sharing Lynn. That childhood incident has stuck with you. I think most of us have either been pushed to win at all costs or fell prey to it’s pressure. I appreciate you sharing. Most importantly that you acted positively on the lesson for your own employees.

      When it comes to managers what do you think influences them to continue / perpetuate the pressure to have unrealistic KPIs on their direct reports?

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