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Why targets and incentives fail and how to fix them

Bernie Smith,

15 min read
6 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

A solid, practical method for goal-setting and incentive/reward design.

Editorial Rating



  • Applicable
  • Well Structured
  • For Beginners


Bernie Smith shares a goal and incentive design system he calls ROKET-DS. He offers at least a dozen examples of targets and incentives gone horribly wrong to make his point that proper goal-setting and incentive/reward design demand careful thought, process and discipline. Smith explains SMART goals, KPIs, OKRs, and various financial and non-financial rewards. For the beginner, Smith’s process – while exacting – makes great sense. Smith also offers resources to guide you in using his system as you work your way through his steps and strategies.


Target, goal and incentive design prove complex and risky in practice.

Use targets and incentives to encourage desired behaviors, boost performance and achieve positive outcomes. Target and incentive design demand careful planning and observing specific practices to avoid disaster.

Targets, incentives and KPIs (key performance indicators) differ. When you weigh yourself, the number you see is a KPI – neither good nor bad. If you aim to weigh 150 pounds, then you set a target – a context for your KPIs. If you need motivation to reach your target, you may give yourself an incentive. Incentives can be positive or negative. If you promise yourself a new pair of jeans when you hit 150 pounds, that’s a positive incentive – a reward. If you tell yourself that if you reach 175 pounds you will lock the fridge and hide the key, that’s a negative incentive – a punishment. 

Simple targets and goals don’t work on their own.

Set your targets using popular methods such as SMART goal-setting, which emphasizes clear stretch goals, feedback and realistic time constraints. SMART goals – like OKRs (Objectives and Key Results...

About the Author

Bernie Smith runs Made to Measure KPIs in the UK, where he authors KPIs, consults and trains.

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