The Three Types of “Fake Goals”: Why They’re Dangerous, and How to Avoid Them

High-performing teams, whether they’re part of a health system, established pharma company, or recently founded tech startup, aim to set direction and measure progress. Whatever management strategy a team uses, the universal language of goals or objectives is sure to be present, and the formula is largely the same:

let’s do [something] by [sometime] using [resources 1, 2, 3…].

In healthcare, Epharmix has the pleasure of working with some of the most talented and passionate executives, administrators, physicians, and medical professionals: these people care deeply about effecting positive change for their patients and organizations. However, even the most dedicated teams of vendors or providers can fall prey to one of three types of goals that, each for its own reason, may lead to more harm than good. Let’s explore them:

  1. Process goals: the most common faux goal, this type of objective can fool even the most discerning manager. A process goal seems realistic but its accomplishment does not lead to any tangible benefit or true outcome for the owner. A process goal might be “create a new workflow for ticket management around non-technical support questions,” and that seems great! However, at the end of the day, a process (or workflow) does not lead to value creation, time savings, or other real benefits. The solution, fortunately, is simple: add a quantitative angle to the goal so that the process is simply part of the means to the beneficial end: “use a new workflow to manage five tickets for customers’ non-technical support questions (and track time to determine the increase in efficiency).”
  2. Feel-good goals: exactly as the name suggests, this task is already done before a team begins to work on it. Let’s say, for instance, the goal of creating a new relationship with a channel partner floats into the conversation during a quarterly goal-setting meeting. “Great,” says the team, “we’re almost done setting up that kind of relationship with Acme Co. already!” The fact that the goal is already near completion is, itself, the enormous red flag that it’s a feel-good goal. If that team were to set the goal, and look back during future planning discussions, all assumptions around time, resources, and probability of success would be remarkably skewed.
  3. Middle-of-nowhere goals: these mandates often begin with the phrase “I really feel like we should be doing…” and end with a barrel of tasks that are irrelevant to the true focus. Whenever a team finds itself comparing its goals to another group or thinking in terms of what would look good to outsiders, beware! Goals should always be relevant to the longer-term initiatives.


To avoid the inefficiency and frustration that come with “fake goals”, try using a few straightforward techniques when goal-setting. First, make sure each objective passes the age-old “SMART” test. If it’s not Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely, it’s probably not a real goal. Next, list off all assumptions behind the goal, accounting for necessary resources like time, money, and know-how, and adding a note or two on exactly how and why the goal fits with the bigger picture. Finally, determine whether (and to what extent) the goal’s success will depend on factors outside of your team’s control. Software test-writing goals might be arduous, but they’re substantially more predictable than compliance reviews with bureaucratic corporations.

Do you use similar techniques to set, track, and improve upon execution in your team? How about different approaches? I’m always looking to share and learn; drop us a line at