Closeup of writing hands in a rowI was shocked and appalled. The oft-quoted 1953 Yale Study of Goals was an urban legend. It never happened.

The mythical Yale study “proved” that people who write down their specific goals for the future are far more likely to be successful than those with unwritten goals or those with no formal goals at all.

For a rational thinker like me, that study was pure gold. It validated a systematic, formal approach to goal setting and goal accomplishment.

The only problem is that the study was never conducted. A 1996 Fast Company article completely debunked the Yale study.

And, a new day has dawned on the premise of that Yale study. Dr. Gail Matthews of Dominican University was intrigued enough by the concepts that she engaged in conducing the research herself.


Dr. Matthews engaged 267 participants from around the globe in her study. Participants included a wide range of businesses, organizations, networks, ages, and backgrounds. Randomly assigned groups were given different activities for their workplace goals.

The group that performed best – 33 percent more successful in accomplishing their stated goals – did five things as part of the study. They formalized their goals in writing. They then assessed their goals on the degree of difficulty, importance, skills and resources available to accomplish the goal, their commitment and motivation, and their accountability for delivering on those goals.

Third, they drafted action commitments for each goal. Fourth, they shared their goals and action commitments with a friend. Finally, they sent that friend a weekly progress report throughout the four week study.

Dr. Matthews’ study proved that formalizing goals, creating a thorough plan for delivering on those goals, then engaging in accountability practices vastly increases goal accomplishment. The Yale study lives!

Goal accomplishment and delivering promised results (and profits, if you’re a for-profit organization) are certainly important in our businesses. Leaders are charged with inspiring team members to deliver results.

The challenge is that delivering results is exactly HALF the leader’s job.

The other half? Creating a safe, inspiring work culture. A culture that treats everyone in the organization with trust, respect, and dignity doesn’t happen by default – it only happens by design.

Just as Dr. Matthews’ study proved how to increase workplace goal accomplishment with a formal goal accountability system, my research proves how to increase workplace inspiration and respect with a formal values accountability system.

Leaders must make values as important as results. And they can’t just “tell” people to behave nicely. Without an integrated system, values don’t stand a chance up against dozens of metrics on performance dashboards throughout your business, watched by everyone weekly (or more frequently).

Just as with Dr. Matthews’ research, values accountability begins with leaders crafting a written statement of what values the company stands for and what actionable behaviors are required for people to model those values. Once values are defined in behavioral terms, leaders must model those behaviors in every interaction and invite everyone else in the organization to do the same.

My proven approach for this powerful combination of performance and values accountability is an organizational constitution. When leaders formalize their team’s present day purpose, values and behaviors, strategies and goals, then live them, coach them, and align all practices to them, amazing things happen. Engagement goes up by 40 percent. Customer service goes up by 40 percent.

And – just as you’d expect – results and profits go up by 35 percent. These gains consistently occur within 18 months of engaging in my culture refinement process.

By all means, focus on performance. And spend 50 percent of your time proactively creating values clarity and values alignment. Your team will thrive.

How well do your colleagues and teams deliver on their performance goals? Does your organization have formal values and behaviors? How do those values impact your day-to-day work environment? Share your insights on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Photo © psphotography – Dollar Photo Club. All rights reserved.

Subscribe!Podcast – Listen to this post now with the player below. Subscribe via RSS or iTunes.

The music heard on my podcasts is from one of my songs, “Heartfelt,” copyright © 2005-2016 Chris Edmonds Music (ASCAP). I played all instruments, recorded all tracks, and mastered the final product for your listening pleasure.

S. Chris Edmonds

Chris helps leaders create purposeful, positive, productive work cultures. He's a speaker, author, and executive consultant. He blogs, podcasts, and video casts. He is the author of two Amazon bestsellers: Good Comes First (2021) and The Culture Engine (2014).
How do you like to learn? Read books | Listen to podcasts | Watch videos

Reader Interactions

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Do you want to boost engagement by 40%?

Chris will show you how to better align your culture in a step-by-step process that has worked time and time again.

No thanks