The Destructive Dilemma of Uncommon Objectives

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One of the most fundamental attributes of High Commitment Cultures (HCC) is that they create common objectives between the employees and the organization such that the employees are not constantly faced with the dilemma of having to choose between doing what’s right for themselves, or what’s right for the company. One of the key levers for creating common objectives is to ensure that the reward and recognition programs are designed in such a way that employees are rewarded for doing what’s right for the company and are therefore compelled to do so without hesitation.

What would any company do otherwise, you might be wondering? Unfortunately, companies do create uncommon objectives every day, though perhaps not deliberately, but nonetheless, more frequently than you might imagine. A company may reward a production team for the number of parts they produce, regardless of the quality or whether or not the inventory of those parts is needed. In such a case, the employees have to decide whether to produce as many parts as they can to collect more incentives, or take the time to produce high quality parts and only produce what is needed. A company may reward and recognize “firefighting” as opposed to prevention of problems, by treating those who jump in and solve problems as heroes as opposed to those who properly plan and execute preventive measures. There are countless other ways in which misguided and ill-informed bosses put their employees in the precarious position of having to deal with the dilemma of choosing what’s right for them and what’s right for the company.

What would you choose to do if this were to happen to you? What if the situation persisted, how long would you be willing to put the company’s interests ahead of your own?

The problem with the uncommon objectives dilemma is that it only affects those who care enough to do the right thing for the organization. Those who knowingly or unknowingly do what gets rewarded, whether it is the right thing for the organization or not, are not fazed by the situation. It is those who are not willing to just go along with doing what the boss is willing to reward, even though it is not the best thing for the organization, who have tough choices to make. These choices often come with grave personal consequences. If they choose to look out for themselves and do what is not right for the organization just to collect their rewards, they will have compromised their values, and if they challenge the direction and operate in a way that is best for the organization, they will, in a sense, be punished for doing the right thing.

The result of the uncommon objectives dilemma, therefore, is that those who truly care about doing  what’s right for the company either find themselves in a moral dilemma or are underpaid for their selfless quest to do what’s right, rendering them a retention risk in either case.

I personally did not find this to be an issue early on in my career as I didn’t really know enough to discern for myself what is right or wrong for the business. I was given responsibilities and assignments, and I executed them to the best of my ability without much thought about the implications of my actions on the bigger picture. In the second half of my 30+ year career, however, I have come across this issue quite a few times. In one case, I chose to part ways with the organization that rewarded the wrong behavior and in a few other cases where I chose to stay, I took the road less traveled and did the right thing much to my own disadvantage. In those cases, I ended up, as a matter of maintaining my own sanity, dismissing my boss’s opinions of me and my performance.

Indeed, one of the side effects of good people trying to do the right thing for their organizations is getting beat up, for lack of better terms, by their misguided bosses, and eventually becoming numb to the criticism, causing them to resort to discounting the feedback they receive. In my case, the culture I grew up in and my upbringing placed a great deal of emphasis on respect for authority, and as a result I have always been ultra-sensitive to whether my boss was happy with my performance or not. As an adult, I have found that in order to keep my sanity, I have to dial down the impact of what the boss thinks of me if I know I am doing what’s right for the business and I receive rave reviews from those whom I am committed to serving. In those times, I remind myself that even Oprah was told she was never going to make it in TV, and Walt Disney was told that he had no imagination, and so on.

Transformative leaders create common objectives between the employee and the business, such that it is easy for the employee to choose to do the right thing, knowing they will be rewarded for it. These leaders command respect and their employees watch for the slightest clues as to whether or not they are happy, responding by making course corrections, and in the end everybody wins.

This week, pay close attention to whether or not you are creating common objectives for your team members. Look for whether your team members have become quiet and reserved, and inquire as to why that is. Explore ways to allow people to use the unique talents they bring to do the work that is needed in the organization and make sure they are rewarded for doing so.


Transformative leaders create common objectives between the company and employees by rewarding actions and behaviors that are in the company's best interest, thereby making it easier for everyone to do the right thing rather than having to choose between doing what's right for them and doing what's right for the company. Bosses who create uncommon objectives present the employees with a moral dilemma to go along and do what's right for them, even though it is not the right thing for the organization or rebel and do what's right for the organization at the expense of their personal rewards. Either case eventually leads to dissatisfaction and in the case that the person chooses to stay and tough it out, it often causes the employee to condition themselves to not be bothered by the boss's opinions and comments, thereby reducing the boss's ability to influence the employee's behavior and performance.

Have a great week! May you Boldly Declare, Courageously Pursue, and Abundantly Achieve the Extraordinary! As always, I would love to hear about your victories and/or challenges. Please leave your comments below or send me an email at

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