This article explores the myths and shortcomings of some generally accepted ideas about goals and incentives.

Getting Started

Appropriate Subject Area(s):

Business, careers

Key Questions to Explore:

  • How valuable are goals?
  • Do incentives really work?
  • What should we use to guide our efforts?

New Terminology:

Incentives, efficiency

Materials Needed:

Copies of the article for the students.

Study and Discussion Activity

Introduction to lesson and task:

Goals and incentives have become ingrained in workplace culture. It is generally accepted in the corporate world that you will not only have personal goals but also understand and support identified and stated company goals. In turn, the company recognizes your accomplishment of these goals through financial rewards and promotions or punishes you for failure to meet them through loss of salary or dismissal. It is believed that, in this way, you give your best efforts. This article, however, challenges these ideas by suggesting that pre-established goals can compromise and misdirect efforts rather than focus actions. The article also goes on to criticize the beliefs about incentives which can compromise both an individual’s and a corporation’s integrity.

The students will be exposed to these ideas and be asked to evaluate whether or not they accept them.

Action (lesson plan and task):

  • Begin the lesson by asking the students if they are motivated more by positive reinforcement – i.e. rewards – or by negative reinforcement – i.e. punishment or failure.
  • Ask them to discuss which approach they think is better and why.
  • Get their ideas and then, through a show of hands, ask them to indicate whether or not they have some goals that they can readily identify.
  • Have them explain some of these goals and explain if they help give their actions meaning.
  • With this as background, indicate to them that they are going to discuss an article that challenges the value of both goals and incentives.
  • Divide the class into groups of four or five and provide them with a copy of the article.
  • Allow them time to read it and then have them, in their groups, discuss whether or not they support the ideas presented.

Consolidation of Learning:

  • Once they have completed their discussions have each group report and respond to any questions or comments from the class.
Success and Additional Learning

Success Criteria:

  • The students will be able to:
    • Explain why goals are stressed by many organizations and the problems associated with that emphasis.
    • Outline how incentives can cause compromise and digression.

Confirming Activity:

  • Hold a plenary session during which the students can discuss the ideas presented by the groups and, if so inclined, explain how these discussions might alter their personal decisions and actions.