Oblique Goals: A Wonderful Squaring-of-the-Circle


A couple of days ago I referred to a fascinating article by Foss and Lindenberg. It is not often you run into an article which puts into words something you have been longing to do (but couldn’t or at least didn’t).

Integration typically refers to an effective combining of parts so that these together form a whole and work together for good. Since the early 1990s I have been seeking to combine strategic management, leadership, and organizational behaviour (motivation, team, etc.).

This is not so easy to do because the discipline of strategic management brings along some microeconomic assumptions which puts organisational members squarely in a “gain goal frame” (the desire to improve or preserve one’s resources). Much of (Team)Leadership and organisational behaviour, instead, aims to create what Foss and Lindenberg call: “joint production motivation” (a normative goal in the service of a collective entity).

Intuitively we connect strategic management, leadership and team/employee motivation, but how do these connect?

IF management frames the company’s goal squarely in a gain goal frame, like “The purpose of the Cooper Tire & Rubber Company is to earn money for its shareholders and increase the value of their investment. We will do that through growing the company, controlling as- sets and properly structuring the balance sheet, thereby increasing EPS, cash flow, and return on invested capital” – then employees of this company will tend to do the same, i.e. search to maximise their personal resources. With an activated gain goal any normative (collective) goals are relegated to the background.

Interestingly, gain goals are much better achieved indirectly by the use of so-called oblique goals. The Danish company LEGO illustrates this with the framing of their strategic goal: “to help children develop their creativity and learning skills through constructive play.”  This is a normative goal frame, which produces joint production motivation for all involved and as a – rather important – byproduct it maximises appropriable value creation relative to the competition (a formal definition of strategic management).

As such Strategic Management, Leadership and team/employee motivation are being integrated. In this light it is particularly interesting to realise that integration is a sign of maturity.


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