Skip main navigation

Making Goals Meaningful

Making Goals Meaningful
Another significant limitation of a smart goal framework is it doesn’t help you make goals meaningful. It doesn’t help you imbue goals with meaning. In fact, very often it leads you to do exactly the opposite. It leads you to set very crisply defined specific goals that no one cares about, and that people are not motivated to pursue. I really liked this quote from John Maynard Keynes, who is a famous economist who said, if human nature felt no satisfaction, profit apart, in constructing a factory, a railway, a mine or a farm, there might not be much investment as a result of cold calculation.
A study by Duffy and colleagues revealed that those employees who reported that they found a meaningful job, a meaningful career, also reported greater levels of satisfaction in their job, greater levels of life meaning, and in the end, much greater levels of overall satisfaction in life. I wanted to give you an example of a study that illustrates the importance of meaning when it comes to our tasks, goals, and jobs. The study was done by Dan Ariely and colleagues. What they did is they asked people to assemble Lego robots, and they put them in two different conditions. In the first condition, the experimenter disassembled the robot as the participant was moving to the next robot.
So imagine the situation, you’ve just completed your first robot figure, you submitted it for evaluation, you got paid.
You’re moving on to the next robot. And then you’re seeing the first robot being diligently disassembled by the lead investigator. In the second condition, the Lego robots stayed assembled until the experiment was over. So as you progress with the experiment, you can see these Lego figures being lined up next to one another. What would you expect as a pattern of results in this experiment?
Participants in what condition would you expect to build more robots?
Now if you chose the second condition, you’re spot on. Participants in the second condition, on average, build 32% more robots than in the first condition. What was also interesting about this experiment is there was a progressively declining pay scale. So, you would get paid for every robot, but with every next robot you would get paid a little bit less. And so in the second condition, participants were more than three times as likely to continue building robots when the pay dropped to below $1 per piece. Now why is this the case? If you think about this, what Ariely and colleagues did is pretty ruthless.
Because in the first condition, they drained this task, they drained these goals of all possible meaning, and it’s not a particularly meaningful task to begin with. But seeing the product of your work being instantly disassembled right in front of your eyes is incredibly demotivating. In the second condition, when you see the product of your work, that contributes to high levels of engagement and motivation.
Now one thing that you can do with your teammates to make sure that you imbue goals and tasks with meaning is to allow them to see how the product that they are producing, or the service, influences the lives of other people.
Adam Grant did a lot of interesting research on the subject. For example, he approached university fundraising callers, these are the people who solicit funds for scholarships. And he found out that they don’t particularly view their jobs and tasks as being particularly meaningful. Pardon the language, but one of the fundraising officers described his job as wetting your pants in a dark suit. He said you get a pleasant feeling, but nobody else notices or cares. So what Adam Grant did is he gave these fundraising officers an opportunity to interact with those students who were the recipients of scholarships.
So imagine a student walks into your office and says, look, the only reason I can afford to go to college is because of the scholarship money that you raised. What Adam Grant found is that for those officers, fundraising callers that were able to interact with students, scholarship recipients, they increased their time on the phone by 142% and raised 171% more money. Recall our radiologists that missed a gorilla image on a long scan. It turns out that some of them don’t find the tasks particularly meaningful and engaging. To sit in the basement of a hospital, in this dark room, continuously reading x-rays. They never get a chance to see their patients.
One simple intervention that Turner and colleagues have introduced for their jobs is that in addition to the x-ray image, they would also receive a picture of the patient for whom they would be reading that x-ray. And what the scores found is that the length of the report increased by about 29% and the accuracy of the report went up by about 46% in those conditions when the radiologist saw the picture of the patient. One aspect of our discussion I would like for us to focus on is to recognize that it’s not sufficient to just set crisply defined specific measurable goals. The checklist is not sufficient. It’s also helpful to be aware of the limitations that come with setting smart goals.
But more importantly, it is essential that we view our goals with meaning. And one of the most effective strategies to help people view their goal with task and meaning is to allow them to see how their product impacts the lives of others. So for example in medical devices firms, engineers who work on medical devices that often save patient lives, such as pacemakers, they rarely get a chance to see their patients. And what these companies are beginning to do is hold parties, corporate parties. They’re giving the chance for the engineers to meet the patients that are using their medical devices. It’s an incredibly emotional moment and leads to tremendously higher levels of engagement and satisfaction.
Adam Grant also reports that at Ritz Carlton for example, every day starts with employees sharing these wow moments and wow stories of how what they did yesterday fundamentally shaped customer experience. So those are some of the motivation tools and tactics you can use to make sure that you imbue tasks and goals with greater meaning.
This article is from the free online

Inspiring and Motivating Individuals

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education