Goals Gone Wild


During the quality craze of the 90s I got to witness the dangers of setting goals.  Our company wanted to start utilizing the tools associated with the quality process, so teams were given freedom to assemble and search out problems to solve.  One team decided to tackle a cost reduction opportunity by solving coffee waste.  It was clear that gallons of coffee were being poured down the drain because it sat too long on the burner.  After all of the Ishikawa diagrams were drawn and costs analyzed, they arrived at a solution.  They replaced all of the existing coffee makers with commercial vending machines that would dispense single cups of coffee (this was before the development of the Keurig).


  1. The new machines drastically reduced the cost associated with providing coffee. (+)
  2. All waste was virtually eliminated. (+)
  3. No one would drink the awful tasting coffee (-)
  4. Morale dropped (and therefore productivity) as people complained incessantly about the coffee. (-)
  5. People spent more time away from their desks searching for coffee outside the building. (-)
  6. The quality improvement process was ridiculed and dismissed. (-)

Was the goal to reduce costs a good one?  Sure!  But since the goal was so narrow and the team may have been too focused on the process and success, some common sense questions may not have come up (like what does this machine coffee taste like?).   In this case they ended up taking out the new machines and bringing back the old ones, so the temporary cost savings were overrun by the efforts required to re-instate the old coffee making process.


  1. Make the goal concrete but make sure you are clear of its value and the potential consequences.  If there is any hint that a cost reducing effort looks like a benefit reduction to the employee, it will be very hard to achieve a net cost reduction.
  2. By all means, tackle issues in your business but always be asking if what you are working on is the most important thing to solve. (“Why are we doing this?”)
  3. Have a sense of humor about it.  Blaming people in this instance will kill any hope you have of engaging your work force.  They will wait for your instruction and not take any initiative going forward.

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Dan Clark

Dan Clark

Principal of Bowline Consulting, process designer/fixer, wireless telecom veteran, addicted pick up soccer player, fly fisher, backpacker, beer brewer, guitar player, choir singer, recovering bag piper

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