Doing your best is good enough


Series Performance Management


Setting concrete objectives? Nonsense. You motivate people by telling them that they should do their best, and the results will come automatically.


There has been much research on this topic. And there’s a good reason for this –  the connection between setting objectives and the results that need to be achieved is very complex. A meta-study with 110 controlled and real-life research showed that specific and challenging objectives lead to higher results than ‘easy’ objectives, ‘do your best’ objectives, or no objectives at all. There are only two situations where the ‘do your best’ attitude is valid: during the first months for new employees (due to the steep learning curve) and when the environment is constantly changing and it is difficult to set targets today that could change tomorrow.

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A summary of the results can be found below:

  • Challenging versus easy: specific and challenging objectives are better than easy objectives, ‘do your best, or no objectives. There is also a second element to this: specific objectives work better because they need to be planned in order to clearly show that the goal has been reached. And challenging objectives give a clear standard against which progress and success can be measured.
  • It’s okay if it is difficult: the higher the goal, the higher the performance. There is a linear connection. But, once the capacity of the employee is reached, this connection is no longer valid.
  • Understanding and commitment: the stronger the connection to the goal and motivation for success, the stronger the chance is that the goal will be reached. Understanding of why and the necessity of the goal is also important, certainly when the objectives are assigned to the employee. Thus, this is an important job for the manager: you can also ask your employees to set their own objectives. This increases their motivation and commitment, but this is not always true when the objectives are assigned and explained.
  • The path and the goal: the path to reaching the goal is just as important as the goal itself. Managers should ensure that employees stay motivated and involved, give feedback during the entire process, get rid of obstacles, keep an eye on the employee’s capacity, and make sure that the employee has the right tools and working environment for success.


Specific and challenging objectives lead to better results than a simple “do your best.” There are two exceptions, and that’s exactly what they are: exceptions. In general, the conclusion regarding ‘do your best’ objectives proposition is that this is not true.

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