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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

An Analysis of the Best Practice of Goal-Setting Paired with Feedback

By Aaron S. Robertson

The following is the author's contribution to a group paper submitted in March 2012 for a class assignment in a course on teams. The author is currently pursuing a master of science in management degree from Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee. For this assignment, the group looked at best practices that encourage and inspire employees, ultimately leading to more productive, efficient, and stronger organizations.

The importance of a people-focused, team-centered approach in any organization cannot be overstated. If an organization is to achieve great results and create a sense of loyalty among its employees, it must provide a cultural framework that embraces collaboration, trust, openness, and, to a degree, while still acknowledging the need for an orderly chain of command, equality.

These traits can certainly benefit any type of organization, even one that works for no monetary gain; even an arm of a state’s military. Abrashoff (2002), a captain in the United States Navy and former commander of the USS Benfold, is known for having brought to the Navy a number of fresh perspectives and a progressive management philosophy, which can be difficult in an organization that is well over two centuries old and is rich in tradition and etiquette. His approach to leading can potentially be best summarized by his statement that,
I wanted sailors to open their minds, use their imaginations, and find better ways of doing everything. I wanted officers to understand that ideas and initiative could emerge from the lower deck as well as muscle and blind obedience. And I wanted everyone on the ship to see one another as people and shipmates. As captain, I was charged with enforcing 225 years of accumulated Navy regulations, policies, and procedures. But every last one of those rules was up for negotiation whenever my people came up with a better way of doing things. As soon as one of their new ideas worked in practice, I passed it up the chain of command, hoping my superiors would share it with other ships. (p.83). 
Abrashoff’s (2002) overall strategy to accomplishing this environment, or culture, included waiting at the back of the line during meal time and encouraging his fellow officers to do the same; joining the enlisted ranks for meals in order to get to better know them and understand their concerns, hopes, and aspirations (pp. 83-84); encouraging his entire crew, no matter one’s rank, to feel comfortable speaking up to him with alternative suggestions, ideas, etc. (p. 89); actively and aggressively listening (pp. 43-44); and creating an atmosphere that encouraged fun (p. 189). All of this led to improved morale, camaraderie, trust, and motivation, which in turn resulted in greater efficiency and effectiveness. In short, it became easier to achieve goals. Goal-setting, in conjunction with meaningful feedback, is essential to an organization’s ability to thrive. Kreitner & Kinicki (2010) note that,
Feedback enhances the effect of specific, difficult goals…Feedback lets people know if they are headed toward their goals or if they are off course and need to redirect their efforts. Goals plus feedback is the recommended approach. Goals inform people about performance standards and expectations so that they can channel their energies accordingly. In turn, feedback provides the information needed to adjust direction, effort, and strategies for goal accomplishment (p. 230). 
Ritz-Carlton is another example of how factors such as feedback, goal-setting, and collaboration are key to building and maintaining a successful organization. Kreitner & Kinicki (2010) note that, “To ensure that errors are reported rather than covered up, Ritz-Carlton tries hard to de-stigmatize them, shifting the focus from blame to correction…At the start of every shift, every day, at every Ritz-Carlton property, a 15-minute staff meeting takes place” (p. 315).

In both cases, that of Captain Abrashoff’s progressive leadership in an organization that is arguably often stingy to adopt new ways of viewing and doing things, and Ritz-Carlton’s desire to work on driving out errors from its facilities together as a team, themes such as feedback, cooperation, and goal-setting resonate loudly. The captain, among implementing other somewhat unorthodox practices, invites and encourages feedback from all of the sailors under his command, regardless of their rank. Ritz-Carlton is essentially acknowledging here that everyone is human and will therefore make mistakes. The company and its leadership fully expect that they will occur from time to time. With this realistic, sensible admission then, the question shifts more from, “How is it possible for errors to happen” to, “What can be learned from them so that they can be avoided, or at the very least, diminished, in the future?” The company addresses the issue of errors head-on in a safe environment, one that allows managers and their employees to learn together and drive progress moving forward.

In both environments, it is evident that the six factors Fernando Bartolome, a consultant and professor of management, believes constitutes the building of trust, are being closely embraced. These six key ingredients are communication, support, respect, fairness, predictability, and competence (Kreitner & Kinicki, 2010, p. 319). This trust leads to a fundamental strengthening of instrumental cohesiveness, which Kreitner & Kinicki (2010) define as, “…a sense of togetherness that develops when group members are mutually dependent on one another because they believe they could not achieve the group’s goal by acting separately. A feeling of ‘we-ness’ is instrumental in achieving the common goal” (pp. 319-320).

These organizations differ from those that put an emphasis on a management philosophy known either as Management by Objectives (MBO) or Management by Results. Scholtes, Joiner, and Streibel (2010) discuss the pitfalls that can easily occur in an organization that runs on this management style:
Management by Results focuses on results and does not pay attention to how the work gets done. The goals do not reflect an understanding of the organization as a system or of process capabilities. The assumption is that if management sets goals, employees will figure out how to meet them. At first glance, this logic seems good, it even appears to facilitate empowerment and the focus on results. However, the way this system is implemented tends to produce harmful side effects that do not serve the long-term interests of the organization (p. xvii). 
Robertson (2012), in a paper devoted exclusively to the Management by Objectives way of thinking, went further, analyzing situations that frequently occur in industries such as banking, automotive sales, and insurance sales. He made the case that feedback is essential to taking any organization to the next level, and that hard goals alone are a poor indicator of the value and potential of an organization and its individual employees. He observed that,
…such a system could potentially damage, even destroy, opportunities for further growth…the deliverance of customer service is not taken into account and employees who may possess other talents and skills that could benefit the organization are being held only to these hard goals, potentially resulting in the termination of their employment if they fail to meet them. Furthermore, employees are not receiving vital feedback under this kind of performance management system that could help them improve their performance. 
It can be observed that the Navy captain and Ritz-Carlton realize the importance of building up their employees. They understand that a management style that encourages collaboration, meaningful and insightful feedback, and a genuine interest in getting to know their employees on more of a personal level is perhaps the best investment they can make in their respective organizations, an investment that will ensure the health and vitality of their institutions for years to come.


Abrashoff, D. Michael. (2002). It’s your ship: Management techniques from the best damn ship in the navy. New York: Warner Books, Inc.

Kreitner, R., & Kinicki, A. (2010). Organizational behavior (9th ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw Hill/Irwin.

Scholtes, P.R., Joiner, B.L., & Streibel, B.J. (2010). The team handbook (3rd ed.). Madison, WI: Oriel.

Robertson, A.S. (2012, February 20). An Analysis of Management By Objectives (MBO). Posted to

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