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When I was in the Army there was a saying about budgets, “Ask for three, expect two and get one.”
I was reminded of this when watching President Obama’s speech at West Point last night. When General McCrystal asked for 40,000 troops for the Afghan War, how many did he really expect to get? According to the formula above it would be about 26,680. So with the 30,000 approved by the President, he actually got about 3,320 more troops than he expected.
Even though The General may be satisfied, the President has been put in a difficult position. Because he did not give The General the 40,000 troops he asked for, if the strategy fails, the responsibility now falls squarely on President Obama. General McChrystal can always come back and say, “I told you I needed 40,000.”
This situation is replicated many thousands of times every year in organizations across the country. Most leaders consider goal setting to be a primary performance improvement /motivational tool and yet it is the thing that is most often poorly done. I have written extensively about goal setting elsewhere and won’t reiterate that now, but the real problem with the way goals are set is that everybody knows that they are usually padded and everybody knows that they will be cut by the boss. It is a game that everybody plays and everybody knows everybody is playing it.
I think the result of this game playing is bloated, inefficient organizations. This continues to exist because incentives are pegged directly or indirectly around large budgets and large numbers of employees. Most organizations would not increase pay in any significant way for someone who was able to reduce the budget by half or reduce manpower requirements by half. Until major changes are made in contingencies of reinforcement in the management of organizations, the goal setting game will continue and managers will continue to find ways to justify doing less with more.
Additional Resouces in OOPS! 13 Management Practices that Waste Time & Monday (and what to do instead)
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