In a recent Harvard Business Review post, Liane Davey explores the connection between unreasonable objectives and unethical behavior. Sometimes, you face a difficult situation as a team leader. You have been given an unreasonable goal to achieve. Davey examines how team leaders can prevent their employees from engaging in inappropriate conduct as a means to achieving highly aggressive goals.
First, Davey argues that you need to "define the off-limits options" when discussing how to achieve your objectives. Davey recommends asking, "What would we not be willing to do to hit our target?” Second, Davey argues that you need to probe carefully to understand how people are trying to achieve their targets. Don't just focus on results. Focus on the behaviors and the processes that are being employed to try to achieve those results. Third, don't single out publicly those people who are struggling to achieve highly aggressive goals. Such shaming may cause them to resort to unethical methods to achieve better results. Finally, keep your eye out for outliers... people doing extraordinarily well in the face of aggressive targets. If one person or unit is exceeding all others by 30%, you might want to ask, "How could they be doing so much better than all the others?" Don't accuse them of inappropriate behavior without any evidence, of course. Probe to understand what their best practices might be, for purposes of sharing those with other team members. However, be on the lookout for any evidence that they may be crossing the line in pursuit of top notch results.
In sum, these types of vigilant behaviors will help avoid some very unpleasant surprises. Don't just complain about unreasonable objectives, or demand that your team go above and beyond to achieve those results. Keep a close eye on how people go about their work so as to avoid putting you and your organization at great risk.