How To Get People To Own Their Goals


On a recent management course, one of our trainers was discussing the idea of setting goals with some delegates.

He said to the first volunteer, “Stand here and your task is to throw as many screwed-up pieces of paper as you can into that waste bin a few feet away”.

The volunteer stood up and, rather embarrassingly, screwed a few pieces of paper up and threw them in the bin.

After one minute, the trainer asked “Had enough?”, to which the delegate said “Yes thanks!” and gratefully returned to his chair.

The delegate had managed to screw-up and bin 12 pieces of paper.

A second volunteer was requested. This manager, a lady, was given her task.

“Your task is to throw as many pieces of screwed-up paper as possible into this bin in one minute, and your target to beat is 12”

The lady went about the task with enthusiasm and scored 15.

The trainer asked for a third volunteer. Addressing this person, he said, “OK, you’ve seen what the others achieved.  Do you think you can beat them in one minute?”

“No problem!” said the third volunteer, and he began when the trainer started the stopwatch.

He managed 21 pieces in the same time as the other two.

The first volunteer objected to this. “That’s not fair…you didn’t give ME those rules!”

The second volunteer also voiced her opinion. “Yes, it isn’t fair, because you didn’t give ME any choices, other than to beat one target.”

The trainer asked the third volunteer for his opinion.

“It was very fair”, he said. “I knew what I had to do and by when, and I got a say in what target I thought I could meet. I saw what was possible, set myself a higher target and knew that I could achieve it. And I did!”


In goal-setting, we very often just set the target and expect team members to achieve it. But how many of us are asked to achieve a task without being involved in the big picture, or fully understanding  ‘the rules’? What might our team be capable of if they were allowed to set targets they thought were stretching and achievable? How much more ownership would they experience if they were involved in the goal-setting up front?

Something to think about!

Many thanks

Mark Williams

Head of Training

MTD Training   | Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.Net

Management Blog Call To Action