Goals, Objectives & Three Levels of Knowing LO29200

From: Fred Nickols (nickols@safe-t.net)
Date: 09/20/02

I've been thinking lately about goals and objectives and it occurred to me
that most people in the workplace are under a great deal of pressure to
formulate, articulate and negotiate explicit goals and objectives for
which they will be held accountable or for which they will hold others
accountable. I'm not sure that this practice is always possible nor, when
possible, is it necessarily desirable.

Bear with me while I explain.

A couple of years ago I published a paper titled "The Knowledge in
Knowledge Management." In it, I pointed to three types of knowledge:
explicit, implicit and tacit. Anyone who is interested in that paper will
find it on my articles web site under the Knowledge Management heading at
the following URL: http://home.att.net/~nickols/articles.htm.

While pondering the role that explicit goals and objectives play in our
lives at work, it occurred to me that those three types of knowledge
correspond to three levels of knowing and that, further, goals and
objectives exist at all three levels of knowing.

        The level of explicit knowing is the level of articulation and
explanation; I can say and describe what it is I know and I can do so in a
way that accounts for and makes sense of my actions.

        The level of implicit knowing is the level of reflection and
observation; I haven't yet stated what it is I know and would have to
stop and think about it before I could give an explanation of or
accounting for my actions -- but with time and thought, I could.

        The level of tacit knowing is the level of automaticity for lack
of a better word; my actions are still purposeful and intentional but
those purposes and intentions are not available to me for conscious,
deliberate reflection and analysis. My purposes and intentions must be
deduced from my actions and patterns in those actions.

 From there, it dawned on me that management, in its quest to manage by
objectives (or at least to use explicit, specific objectives as a
management tool) is neglecting two other important "levels" where
objectives exist; namely, the implicit and the tacit.

All this ruminating of mine is going on in the context of figuring out
ways and means of helping people get clear about their goals and
objectives. That's when it occurred to me that maybe that's not always a
good thing to do.

        For one thing, we do so many things -- and do them well -- without
bothering to stop and formulate explicit objectives -- that to do stop and
do so would be a waste of time and, in certain situations, precisely the
wrong thing to do.

        For another, I suspect that, in many cases, our goals and
objectives (i.e., our purposes and intentions) are best left at the
implicit level or, if they exist at the explicit level, that they are left
unarticulated. There are many situations in which we choose not to "tip
our hand" so to speak.

        For a third, it might be the case that trying to dredge up and
make explicit that which is tacit is counter-productive, that is, attempts
to do so hinder execution of actions that are, to again use a figure of
speech, "second nature."

Conversely, I can see great value -- as a performer and as a manager -- in
getting clear about intentions. I can also see great value in reflecting
upon my actions to see what intentions are implicit in them and I could be
aided in this by the observations of others. I also see considerable
value in identifying and analyzing the patterns in my actions as a way of
divining what might turn out to be my subconscious goals and objectives.

Anyway, where I am now is at a point where I am going to start developing
some ways and means of using this three-level framework as a way for
individuals and for managers and their direct reports, to develop
appropriate degrees of clarity regarding work and performance objectives
-- and, perhaps as important, tools for "reading" the goals and objectives
of those around them.

I think this has something to do with learning and I have a few questions
for the list:

        Can anyone point me to similar notions that have been explored and
developed by others?

        Does what I'm talking about make sense and does it hold any
potential value?

        Where are the flaws or even the huge holes in my thinking?

Regards to all,

Fred Nickols


Fred Nickols <nickols@safe-t.net>

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