How To Know If You’re Setting Pointless Goals

HR insights and tips with Jeff Havens

Hello, and welcome to another installment of HR Intervention!

It’s the end of the year, which means it’s Calibration Time! Or Year-End Review Time, or “Wow I Hate This Part of the Year” Time – it goes by lots of different names.

The point is, if you’re a typical manager in a typical company, then you are going to spend some amount of time this month reviewing performance and setting expectations for next year.

There are a billion articles about how to set intelligent goals (my wife is a fan of the SMART system, which I believe stands for Super Magnificent Awesome Radical Terrific goals), and a different billion articles about when you should do performance reviews (somewhere between always and never).

But there aren’t quite as many about how to know whether the goals you’ve set are completely pointless. Fortunately, this is one of them.

Pointless Goal Problem #1 – No Way to Measure It

Let’s say one of your goals next year is to “support manufacturing during roll-out of new product.”

It sounds fine, maybe. But what exactly does “support” mean?

Are you supposed to help with design, supply chain, implementation, marketing, etc – or does just showing up every day and saying “hi” count as support?

If you can’t identify some specific behaviors or outcomes that indicate progress toward your goal, then the goal itself is probably not worth having.

Pointless Goal Problem #2 – Goals for the Sake of Goals

Everybody wants to have goals, right?

I know I’m right, because having goals is apparently so important that many companies decide how many goals a person needs to have, and how many things they need to do in order for that goal to be achieved.

You want me to close 10 new accounts every month? OK, well maybe that’s a good idea. And maybe it would be better for me to spend all my energy closing two big accounts.

If you’re focused on form over actual results – or worse, if you’re requiring everybody to write a monthly report just so it looks like they’ve been doing something useful – then your goals might be a little doofy.

Pointless Goal Problem #3 – Goals That Require Too Much Risk

I’ve been guilty of this one myself, because I want people to discover their own inner strength without too much external pressure.

So, one time I asked an employee of mine to screw up somehow.

I wanted her to expand her boundaries and get comfortable with failure, so I expected her to do something wrong. Did I give her any idea what I meant by that?

Absolutely not, because that would stifle her creativity. And did she do it?

Absolutely not, because she wasn’t anxious to spend her time finding ways to do things wrong. Not to mention that there’s no guarantee I’m going to be thrilled with the particular flavor of her failure.

If you want people to grow, then you have to accept the possibility of failure along the way; but if you don’t give them an idea of what growth actually looks like (see Stupid Goal Problem #1), then you probably won’t get as much out of them as you’d like.

Thanks for reading another installment of HR Intervention. I hope this helps you prepare your next list of goals, or at least gives you some warm fuzzies as you remember some of the pointless goals you’ve had in your life.

Now that you know what to avoid with goal-setting, here’s an in-depth guide on how to set goals the right way!

Jeff Havens is a speaker, author, and professional development expert who tackles leadership, generational, and professional development issues with an exceptional blend of content and entertainment. He is a contributing writer to Fast Company, Entrepreneur, BusinessWeek, The Wall Street Journal; and has been featured on CNBC and Fox Business. For more information, or to bring Jeff to your next meeting, call 309-306-1781, email, or visit

Speaker, Author and Professional Development Expert