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The Paradox of Objectives

A relatively stable factor in management fashions in the last thirty years is the management by means of objectives, in contrast to leading by instructions. Objectives and target achievement discussions are an essential part of management work in middle-sized and large organisations. Meta-theoretically, this concept is also an unfolding paradox. Why? Under the requirement to increase the autonomy of employees (“You are free to decide how you wish to attain this goal!”), the downsides are made invisible.

On the one hand, it is implied that in the time frame for reaching the objective – usually annual – the validity of the objective has sustainability. The employee, therefore, is relieved of the situational responsibility of changing the goals and, encouraged by bonus effectiveness, is committed to the goals. Thus, goals are still being followed when the actors, themselves, are convinced of their non-usefulness.

On the other hand, organisations are under the illusion that the objectives can be harmonised over the entire organisation. As the goals of one are in competition with the goals of another and, therefore, cause irreconcilable, sustained conflict (between departments or areas), they lose the overview, or it leads to unfavourable back delegation to the head of the hierarchy.

Both aspects of the paradox downside don’t necessarily speak against this form of stability and coordination creation in the organisation. But here, too, it is important to reckon with the possibility and need for other forms of direction, or, at least to know such alternatives and, where required, to develop them.

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