Management 101: How to avoid setting goals and objectives which you cannot achieve!

Article by Ken Thompson, last updated September 2021

One of the most important lessons a leader or manager can learn through Business Simulations and Scenario Playing is to try NOT to set (or accept) goals and objectives which are outside their control. OK - it sounds obvious but believe me it is a trap we all fall into regularly.

There are two main ways you can fall into this trap – Competitive Goals and Contingent Goals:


Competitive Goals are where you set you goal as being the biggest or the most profitable or the fastest or the best. For example, the biggest market share or highest profits with respect to a group of your competitors.

Competitive Goals are Relative - it is much better to set Absolute Goals such as profit margins in excess of 25% or market share in excess of 15%. 

When you set competitive goals you are really playing Russian Roulette with your future success as you have little influence over what your competitors may do.

For example, if your competitors suddenly decide to sell their product or service very cheap then your biggest market share goal will be simply blown out of the water! 

So when you are setting your goals just ask the question:

“Is there some external player who can HINDER me/us achieving any of my/our goals?”

If the answer is YES you have fallen into the seductive trap of Competitive Goal-Setting and you need to rethink them to make them Absolute Goals instead. 

Objective Goals often (but not always) pass the test “no third party must fail for this goal to be achieved.”


Contingent Goals are where your goals are dependent on a third party who you have limited influence over.

To identify if your goals are contingent just ask yourself the question:

“Is there some third partner who must HELP me/us to achieve any of my/our goals?”

If the answer to this question is YES then you need to talk to that party about alignment and  collaboration and what they will commit to in exchange for what from you.

If this is not possible or the costs are too high then you need to change these goals or bring the contingent aspect of them in-house, for example, through executing via resources under your direct control.

Thus you must replace Contingent Goals with Collaborative or Autonomous Goals.

Non-Contingent Goals often (but not always) pass the test “no third party must succeed for this goal to be achieved.”


A key leadership skill is to be able to sense when you are in danger of are slipping into setting Competitive Goals or Contingent Goals,  the achievement of which are outside your control. You can then replace these unachievable goals with goals which are Absolute and Collaborative/Autonomous. 

The natural competitiveness of a team-based business simulation like COMPETE or XSIM is one of the most effective ways for managers and leaders to learn the consequences of setting (unnecessarily) Competitive or Contingent Goals. Such simations offer a high-pressure, but safe and supportive, learning environment where managers/leaders can experientially learn vital skills such as goal-setting, without inflicting damage to themselves, their teams or their organisations!


"Management 101" ideas, such as effective goal-settings, are explored in more detail in our two new mini-books: 

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Ken Thompson

Ken is a practitioner, author and speaker on Leadership, Collaborative Working, High Performing Teams, Change Management, Project Management and Business Acumen. His work has featured in major publications including The Guardian , Wired Magazine, The Huffington Post and The Henry Ford Magazine. Ken has also spoken at many international events including TEDx, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI), Learn Tech (London) and NASA.

Ken is Founder of Business Simulations Ltd.

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