The 3 Biggest Reasons People Are Goal Resistant & How You Can Change Their Minds

Goal setting is a tool and behavior that we all use from an early age to help guide our thoughts and actions towards a specific and defined future moment in time. From learning to read, achieving a new skill, a level of education or a future level of growth and revenue, goals are part of how we live and how we optimize achievement.

goal resistant

Management best practices have created a number of frameworks over the last 50 years to help companies create goals at the various levels of the organization to help it achieve its mission, and maximize stakeholder value. Three of the popular goal setting frameworks are OKR4DX and SMART goals.

Most companies have a good to high level of adherence to an annual budgeting and forecasting process. Fewer organizations appear to have the same level of adherence, skills and competency when it comes to strategic, team and individual goal setting. All of which is surprising given the evidence supporting its impact and the simple fact that nearly every market leading company uses a framework like OKRs to execute strategy, direct, align and energize teams and performance manage employees.

Why are some leaders, managers and individuals goal resistant? We’ve noticed four recurring themes. We thought it would be interesting and useful to list these and then explore the logical arguments that would counter the resistance.

Too Busy / Short On Time


There are two recurring themes of argument based on not having time:

“We’re obviously working really hard on the right things so setting goals will just slow us down.”

“I’ve got no time to be setting and updating OKRs, we’ve got KPIs, surely these are enough.”

The counter argument is actually very straightforward:

“You might be working on the right things, but that work is not likely to be a specific set of measurable outcomes.

Also, goal setting is not just about you and what you’re doing. Goal setting is a company-wide exercise designed to ensure we all have a voice in what we focus on, we can then align on the goals that are most important.

Then because our goals are in our OKR software, ZOKRI, we have a way of updating each other on progress and problems, and efficiently distributing that information so we might react quickly and support each other.

As for not having enough time to set and update goals. The planning process is key to our success, and directs how we spend our year and each quarter. Every hour spent is an hour invested. As for update check-ins, they take only minutes once a week and are hugely valuable to everyone.”

Afraid Of Transparency


These thoughts that are never written down or honestly articulated, and are often variation of:

“We’re not performing very well right now and what to do about that is not clear. I am afraid of losing my job so I don’t want to have the spotlight on our performance right now.”

“I’m soft-pedaling and flying under the radar right now, goals mean targets and accountability which could spoil that. I’d better make a good case for not doing this.”

“Why do I need to have and update goals? Don’t you trust me?”

The issue here might be down to the individual(s) or might be a more wide-spread cultural issue due to a lack of psychological safety. Either way, being able to discuss candidates for goals and share goals with associated progress and problem updates without fear of punishment or personal consequence is a key part of the DNA of high performing team cultures.

If people are resistant to setting goals and doing regular check-ins, you may have a culture problem not a problem with a workshy individual, so you should not jump to conclusions too quickly.

The counter argument is going to need you to ensure that you explicitly describe the need for goal setting and the implications of not achieving goals not being anchored only in the final level of progress.

Having a way of ending goals in a fair, constructive and balanced way encourages ambition, debate, hard work and achievement. Success levels of a goal should therefore only be graded after careful reflections on how the goal was approached, the challenges faced, and the learnings gained. This is called a Retrospective.

“Debating and agreeing goals is one of the ways we successfully compete, grow and learn as individuals.

To be clear, goals are not there to set anyone up for failure, or catch anyone out. We set goals to provide everyone with a framework from which we can gather inputs on where best to direct future efforts, measure progress frequently and solve problems as we go.

Success will never be purely based on the final percentage progress made. Success of a goal is a graded scale of achievement that is derived from a process where we discuss the goal, how we made progress, where we faced challenges and issues, and what our learnings are. We then kick-on from there.”

Everything Is Changing Too Quickly, There’s No Point


It’s common to hear teams say that everything is changing too quickly and there’s no point setting goals as they become irrelevant quickly and it’s better to just manage work in an agile way and focus on execution.

The issue is the teams saying this is right in one regard. Managing work in an agile way is a great way of managing dynamic or volatile moments in time. However, a good goal is not there to track the progress of a body of work like a project or a sprint. It’s there to keep score of the work going on by describing a desirable measurable outcome. An outcome based goal is how agile teams would know if their hard work and agility was working.

If during the goal period e.g. a quarter the outcome becomes irrelevant, then change it. There are no rules that say that you can’t. Goal setting too can be agile.

And once again, the benefits of having goals are not limited to your team. Goals are created to openly share what every team is working towards and their progress. This not only provides context for decisions being made, but also ensures better alignment and faster issue resolution.

“We operate in a fast moving environment where we change direction, and sometimes even pivot based on what we learn. That does not mean that we can not and should not discuss and describe what success looks like in a measurable way.

Measurable outcomes tell us whether we are successful or not, and connect our hard work to value. If the outcomes we are working towards are the wrong outcomes we stop, change or recalibrate them. Working towards outcomes that no longer make sense is an obviously bad idea.”


  • Goals are an important part of life and a key business process that allows an organization to stay competitive and maximize stakeholder value.

  • There are rational and irrational reasons why some people resist setting goals and the associated update and debate stages of an execution cycle.

  • Addressing these issues in a deliberate and rational way will help everyone overcome these reasons and change their minds.