University of South Carolina

Business prof: Resolve to make 2011 a goal-setting year

By Peggy Binette,, 803-777-5400

Listen up self-improvement enthusiasts: Resolve to set personal goals for the new year.

Dr. Bruce Meglino, an expert in work values and organizational behavior at the Darla Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina, says resolutions are often ineffective and quickly forgotten, gathering dust like unused exercise equipment.

“A specific goal that is measurable and precise is better than the ‘to do my best to’ approach of New Year’s resolutions,” Meglino said.

Research shows that it doesn’t matter whether you or someone else, such as a supervisor at work, sets the goal, he said. Accepting it is what matters.

“Accepting a goal means you are ready to tackle it and that you can see yourself as able to do it,” Meglino said. “As long as you accept a goal, it doesn’t matter who sets it.”

Meglino said goals should be challenging, and he cautions people against setting the bar too low.

Effective goals should have several additional components, including a degree of difficulty and a need for feedback, he said.

“People tend to perform better when a goal is more difficult,” he said. “Moreover, when a person achieves a goal, they have a tendency to raise the bar and set another goal that is generally more difficult.”

He said feedback plays an important role in helping people achieve goals. People whose goals yield visible results, such as arriving to work at an earlier time or losing a certain amount of weight, are more apt to receive feedback from others. Other types of feedback may have to be built into goals that are less public.

“Think of feedback as the ‘breakfast of champions’; it makes it easier for you to be successful,” said Meglino, who said feedback can be positive reinforcement or constructive critique.

“Response from others lets us make adjustments along the way,” said Meglino. “We feel a greater sense of responsibility when we have to adjust what we do. Feedback is an important part to ensuring success.”

Setting personal goals at work can provide greater focus and lessen stress.

“The goal sets the priority,” said Meglino. “When you have a clear goal, your behavior becomes second nature. Human beings don’t like cognitive overload. We want things to be reasonably simple in our lives so we can concentrate on other matters. Setting personal goals lets us do that.”

Of course, setting too many goals can actually cause cognitive overload, he said.

Meglino recommends two or three goals. Even up to five goals can be reasonable, but they should be directed to different areas of one’s job or life, he said. The key is to avoid competing goals.

The social sanction of setting goals or resolutions in anticipation of New Year’s helps people mentally prepare for tackling the goal.

For that reason, Meglino recommends managers tell employees in advance that he or she wants to establish goals.

“It makes it easier for employees to accept goals when they can mentally prepare,” Meglino said. “Identify the general area the goals will apply to and their importance. Adjusting expectations early helps the process. Thinking – even worrying about it – helps workers find it easier to accept the goal once the particulars are shared.”

By Office of Media Relations

Posted: 12/22/10 @ 12:15 PM | Updated: 03/25/12 @ 5:26 PM | Permalink