For many years, self-help and business gurus have cited a Harvard Business School study summarized as follows:
In the 1950's, Harvard interviewed students in the graduating class of its business program. They found 3% had written goals while 97% did not. Harvard followed up about 20 years later to measure the financial success of these students. Harvard found the 3% of students who had written goals were earning as much as the other 97% combined.
Many authors of self-help books and business-help books have cited this study. Sometimes the dates change. Sometimes it is Yale and not Harvard. Always, it's 3% written goals = 97% without written goals.
But...here's an eye opener.
The fact is, there has been no such study...it is like an urban myth1.
So, with that huge-justification-for-having-written-goals myth busted...
Can we link written goals to greater success?
The simple answer is Yes.
Written goals help people achieve greater success.
We know this from everyday life:
- we know it when we read a STOP sign
- we know it when we make a grocery list
- we know it when we mark a friend's birthday on our calendar
- we know it when we make a reservation at a restaurant
When it comes to business and job success, we should have no doubt about it:
WRITTEN GOALS HELP PEOPLE ACHIEVE GREATER SUCCESS.
In business, we do not need astonishing 'facts' like 3% delivers 97%. We already have the 80-20 Rule. People can buy into the 80-20 Rule because we can illustrate it to them by digging into the facts of their roles and their businesses. When we make hyperbolic claims, like 3%=97%, people intuitively know we are talking about getting them in over their heads.
We need to be realistic when we talk about Goal setting.
For business and job success the Top 2 questions leaders and planners need to ask are:
- What Goal Culture do we want? [What form will our written goals take? How much detail do we want in those written goals?, etc]
- How do we create and communicate that Goal Culture? [so people buy-in and people feel good about doing the Actions we desire]
- We know this because my friend, Lois Raats, and I are working on a 'time management' presentation. As part of our preparation work, Lois researched this topic and discovered the frequently-quoted Harvard study never happened.
- If you want to learn more about what people have written and placed in their websites about 'The Harvard Study' visit Google and search "Harvard 3% success".