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Home / Issues / № 4, 2014


Zebrin Y.

"The dream is just a dream. The goal is a dream with a plan and timelines to achieve. And the goal will remain a dream as long as you do not create and implement an action plan. For each achieved the aim was a clever plan" (Harvey Mackay).

Our society is obsessed with achieving the goals of which are directly connected to success. We were taught to visualize desired things, which will happen if you set a goal. Setting goals in recent years has become a kind of fashion mania and in management too. Evaluation of personnel, promotion, coaching and financial motivation system directly connected to the achievement of the goals. The management of the goals, targeting, planning purposes are only a few attractive names technologies and techniques.

That is wonderful and useful tool, but unfortunately, in practice, not used as often and not as effective.  Its history is clear, many studies conducted in the 1970s and 80s, showed a positive effect of goal setting on performance and quality of work. On the one hand, everything is correct and logical. If the target is not specified, each sends his arrows in the direction that he considers the most important. Every person has his own opinion. In this case, the synergy effect is lost, that is the effect of multiplication of effort. Accordingly, it is better to have a single goal - a clear, understandable for all.

But it is in theory and it is an ideal. But in practice, human nature is distorted so pleasant picture. In practice, we faced with the unpleasant side effects:

- Too rigid focus on specific goals complicates the perception of a common goal. It is lost the understanding that the goal is not self-sufficient. This is only the instrument to achieve a higher purpose.

- Too many goals (especially in matrix organizations and project-oriented). In this case, choose the simplest goals, while more complex (even though they may be important to achieve a common goal) deferred or ignored.

- Clear short-term goals are taught us of "short-term thinking."



The purpose of that research is to define the reasons why goal setting sometimes does not work and in which cases.

Material and methods

The problem is how we are arranged and how our brain works. The man is an open system. A hard open systems are moving toward a predetermined order, the so-called structured complexity and continuously tunable, trying to approach this state. It means that the open system constantly reproduced through the creation of a specific internal code (as a biological DNA). The system reproduces the existing order without any change. In this lies the essence of human behavior metastrategy or a group’s one. Your behavior in any environment is repeated in the order originally formed.

There are some researches of the scientists:  “The behavior of the leading role played by the intentions of the individual” (Thomas Ryan). “The most important factor in motivation is the presence of a "head" conscious particular purpose” (E. Loki).

Important factors:

1.    Feedback:

Rationale: allows the individual to learn how he approaches to the target and gives extra motivation for further progress. Note: The group, which is given negative feedback, less satisfied, but at the same time, set higher goals, develop the best strategies and achieve great results.

2.    Clarity and specific goals:

Rationale: purpose control attention, and therefore, the more concrete and specific goal, the more the employee to concentrate on her achievement. Note: It is not remotely affect the behavior, as do short-term goals. They only serve as a guide. When put to any distant goal, one must formulate a more specific purpose.

3.    Goals should be quite complex:

Rationale: complex goals are for the employee to be a challenge, a test of his abilities. Note: The employee must have the necessary skills; just as important is how the employee takes aim as he sees opportunities to achieve it.

Aubrey Daniels: «... stretch goals are an ineffective practice. Research has shown that if employees do not reach the ambitious goals, their motivation drops. Goals motivate only when they have achieved their objectives, are rewarded and recognized for them". A. Galinsky (a professor at Kellogg School of Management: «goal setting has its limitations. Excessive fixation on purpose limitation is perception or encourages people to seek out any purpose, often far from ethics. Negative effects: the neglect of the objectives is the risk of unethical behavior, damage to corporate culture, decreased intrinsic motivation". M. Schweitzer (University of Pennsylvania), a research of the psychology of achievements: "... if the employees themselves are accountable for achieving the goals they inflate and distort the real numbers, in order to give the impression of success in achieving the goals". Max Bazerman (Harvard Business School): «... to strive to create a working environment which encourages interest and passion for the job, rather than blindly relying on setting hard targets”. In the early achievement of the strategy (the project) need to focus on the "great" common purpose. Make the first step is easier if you focus attention on the destination. In assessing progress at the beginning or in the case of complex intermediate objectives should strive to maintain focus on the task itself and personal achievements. It allows you to maintain motivation in the process of moving to the great goal. If the task is easy or destination point is close to, it's important to switch to the common picture and a great goal.


Research of visualization effect:

 L. Pham and Sh. Taylor: "Visualization, which was conducted two groups of students differ in principle. One group visualize the success – the passed exams, the other group visualize the preparation process. The results of the second group were significantly superior to the first group performance”. Oettingen, Gabriele; Mayer, Doris: “Definition of positive expectations greatly increases the chance of success”.

 Visualization greatly helps in achieving the goals, because it is actually the first step towards a new result. But studies show that the more important to visualize not the result but the process! The reasons explaining these rules are quite obvious:

1.    Planning (process visualization allows to visualize all the necessary steps and realize the points those are not clear or are not obvious)

2.    Emotions: the rendering process to reduce the level of anxiety and uncertainty.

One of the reasons, the result is less effective visualization is to assume that everything will be much easier than we think. And this error does not depend on the individual's experience. We are missing the whole complex way of achieving the goal. Rather, we know that it will be difficult, but to what extent cannot imagine. And there is an effect, "as it has already reached the goal" and it can reduce the effort at the beginning of the movement. Namely, in the beginning is planning. And by the way is one of the reasons why plans are ineffective. They are not designed with the thoroughness with which it ought to do.


Value certain expectations:

Expectations are based on our past experience. Fantasies are not connected to past experience or current moment. Expectations are more realistic. .Richard Wiseman (reported in Wiseman, 2010, 59 Seconds): 1000 people were interviewed, what strategies they use to achieve their goals. Identified a list of the 10 most frequently used strategies to achieve results.  A year later, conducted a survey of all participants in order to learn of the success in achieving the objectives. Unfortunately, only 10% achieved their goals. And based on these data have identified what works and what does not.  Worral L., Cooper, C.L. "Only 31% of senior executives in 250 UK companies consider their program changes effective". Oettingen, Performance Measurement & Management, Worldwide research: "70% of organizations which begin to make strategic changes were failed». G.Pak H, Schnetter K., (New York University): “Degree of commitment to the goal was measured in the mental aspect (making plans), emotional (attitude), behavioral (application efforts, the quality of the activity). The data show that individuals who do not have positive expectations are not ready to achieve the goal. Self-regulation of goal setting: turning free fantasies about the future into binding goals”.

Commitment to achieve goals:

One of the main reasons why goals are not achieved is a lack of commitment. If there is no expectation that a future goal can be achieved or will benefit, then the willingness to reach its goal is minimizing. Person is not ready to take responsibility to achieve this goal. One of the techniques that allow you to adjust expectations is a technique of contrasting dreams and reality. Similar to the technique of Walt Disney: first, fantasize, nothing currently no denying, and then become the position of the Realist and relate to the current situation. Usually we seek to avoid it, because the contrast can be uncomfortable. Or even worse, it would seem that the goal is unattainable. Much nicer to stay in a fantasy world, there were impossible to fail. But even in the use of technology contrast laid the first brick of our future obligations. After all, if you are not willing even to such a little way out of the comfortable world of fantasy or habitual discontent of the current situation, then the obligation and cannot speak.

1. Aubrey Daniels. Oops! 13 Management Practices That Waste Time and Money, 1999.

2. M. Schweitzer. Goals Gone Wild, University of Pennsylvania, 1998.

3. L. Pham, Sh. Taylor. From Thought to Action: Effects of Process-Versus Outcome-Based Mental Simulations on Performance, 1999.

4. Oettingen, Gabriele; Mayer, Doris. The motivating function of thinking about the future: Expectations versus fantasies, 1998.

Bibliographic reference

Zebrin Y. PSYCHOLOGY OF SUCCESS. WHEN GOAL SETTING DOES NOT WORK. International Journal Of Applied And Fundamental Research. – 2014. – № 4 –
URL: www.science-sd.com/459-24690 (20.06.2024).