Wrong goals destroy motivation

Wrong goals destroy motivation
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Let’s consider a well-known situation. You have targets in a project, you are located right in the mid of the project and then it turns out that the goals are wrong. All the work that your team members have done so far may completely go in vain. Is there anything more demotivating?

The psychological background is determined by the self-determination theory. When an activity motivated us at some point of time, we may have done our best to reach certain goals namely autonomy, competence or affiliation. Surprisingly, according to a recent scientific study conducted by Ayelet Fishbach of the University of Chicago and Jinhee Choi of the Seoul National University, certain targets may even ruin our motivation.

This result was observed when the two scientists conducted four different experiments. The experiments were based on targets that required participants to do physical activities in the gym, try origami, sometimes use floss regularly, and sometimes practice yoga. The result was always the same: Those who focused on external goals (example: I want to lose weight or gain strength and stamina through a fitness plan) devoted themselves to the task first with greater dedication, but lost motivation after a certain point of time. On the contrary, those who focused on the task itself not only demonstrated greater endurance and patience, but also had more fun doing it.

An experienced project manager knows the truth that external incentives, such as financial rewards, destroy the inner motivation of employees. The problem is that the focus is placed on the reward rather than on doing the task and an experienced project manager is also aware of this fact. If we do something like, for example, enjoying a task or learning from it, the project team is motivated by its own. We now bring the reward to the game, we start focusing more on reward and the activity is no longer carried out just for fun, but for pure profit pursuit. Simply put, we lose interest in the actual task.

Moreover, Fischbach and Choi have shown that it does not even need monetary incentives to destroy the motivation. It’s enough if you set the wrong goals. Fischbach cites a simple example: If you do sports, you should
not focus on weight loss or six pack abs. It is the immediate benefit that sports activities generate in the form of relaxation and joy which drives the motivation for engagement. „Because these internal incentives occur already during the activity, we remain longer interested and more motivated,“ said Fischbach.

In this sense, an experienced project manager should check his goals thoroughly while taking enough time for determining the scope of the project. This is the only way to lay the foundation for a successful project.

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Source: Ayelet Fishbach and Jinhee Choi (2012). When Thinking about Goals Under Mines Goal Pursuit. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Vol 118, Issue 2, page 99-107.

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