Intentions Matter

Intentions Matter: Ignore Them at Your Peril

In the next few blogs I’m going take a look at the question of intentions and why they matter.  On the upside of the equation we will look at how determining your intentions using the principles of optimal effectiveness will improve performance, as well as productivity, engagement and job satisfaction as well as a whole lot more 123.  On the downside we will be examining the limitations and inefficiencies you automatically impose upon yourself and your people when your intentions are unclear, poorly balanced or not well considered.

Intentions Come in All Shapes and Sizes

Intentions come in all shapes and sizes, many good, some not so good and plenty that are completely harmful. People often confuse intentions with goals or expectations.  While they are closely related it is helpful to highlight the differences.  An intention is the purpose behind your goal 4.  It’s the why behind your goal,  while the goal itself is the thing you achieve.  For example you might aim to achieve a certain income so you can be financially secure. The goal is a certain income however the intention or the why behind this goal is to feel secure.

Be Careful What You Intend

Our intentions, conscious or unconscious,  heavily bias our decisions and our choice of strategies.  Our intentions can enhance or limit our perceptions by influencing what we look for in any given situation.  Intentions can enhance or limit our ability to solve problems by informing what we consider.  Intentions effect our ability to adapt to our world by limiting or increasing our options.  Intentions can help or hinder how we manage our mood, think critically and even the way we engage with others.  Intentions can determine if we are overly directive or not directive enough.   It is important to understand intentions if you want to maximise outcomes.

When we don’t consciously set our intentions we will default to previously learned intentions which may or may not apply accurately to the current circumstance we find ourselves in.  Or worse they may completely undermine our efforts.

In high stress situations people typically fall back to simpler, more primitive intentions right at a time when more sophisticated approaches may be required.  There are many studies that show employee intention to leave goes up in proportion to stress, that is high stress triggers the simple intention to escape the stress by leaving your job 5.

Clarifying our intentions helps us narrow our scope of works, inform our designs, and match our decisions and behaviours appropriately.   Intentions help focus all our cognitive and behavioural capabilities on the same purpose.

Below are a couple of studies that reinforce the importance of having intentions that are clear and well formulated. In the next blog I am going to look more closely at the effect of intentions on outcomes.

  1.  Feedback: A necessary condition for the goal setting-performance relationship. Erez, Miriam;  Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol 62(5), Oct 1977, 624-627. doi: 10.1037/0021-9010.62.5.624
  2.  Kim, J. S., & Hamner, W. C. (1976). Effect of performance feedback and goal setting on productivity and satisfaction in an organizational setting.Journal of Applied Psychology61(1), 48.
  3.  Bélanger-Gravel, A., Godin, G., & Amireault, S. (2013). A meta-analytic review of the effect of implementation intentions on physical activity. Health Psychology Review7(1), 23-54.
  5.  Avgar, A. C., Pandey, N., & Kwon, K. (2012). Discretion in context: A moderated mediation model of the relationship between discretion and turnover intentions. Industrial Relations: A Journal of Economy and Society,51(1), 106-128.