Goal Setting Theory Overview Since it was first researched five decades ago, Goal-Setting theory has been the most researched, utilized, and established theory of work motivation in the field of Industrial and Organizational Psychology (Redmond, 2010). The theory began with the early work on levels of aspiration developed by Kurt Lewin and has since been primarily developed by Dr. Edwin Locke, who began goal setting research in the 1960s. The research revealed an inductive relationship between goal setting and improved production performance. A goal is the aim of an action or task that a person consciously desires to achieve or obtain (Locke & Latham 2002; Locke & Latham, 2006). Goal setting involves the conscious process of establishing levels of performance in order to obtain desired outcomes. If individuals or teams find that their current performance is not achieving desired goals, they are motivated to increase effort or change their strategy (Locke & Latham, 2006). Locke and Latham stated that "The goal setting theory was based on the premise that much human action is purposeful, in that it is directed by conscious goals" (O'Neil & Drillings, 1994, p.14). The decision to set a goal results from dissatisfaction with current performance levels. Setting a goal provides structure to direct actions and behaviors to improve the unsatisfactory performance. Locke and Latham (2002) found a direct linear relationship between goal difficulty, level of performance, and effort involved. The direct linear relationship will stay positive, as long as the person is committed to the goal, has the requisite ability to attain it, and doesn't have conflicting goals (Locke & Latham, 2006). Locke and Latham's goal setting theory states that several conditions are particularly important in successful goal achievement.These include goal acceptance and commitment, goal specificity, goal difficulty, and feedback (O'Neil & Drillings, 1994). These conditions have been extended and edited by other researchers, such as Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson's SMART goals, which are conditions that need to be met to make goals effective.
Goal Setting Theory Mechanisms Goal mechanisms affect performance by increasing motivation to reach set goals (Latham, 2004). These mechanisms are those inputs that affect behavior in groups or individuals, which serve to increase their attention to a goal, energy in pursuing a goal, persistence in achieving a goal, and ability to strategize to reach a goal. When an individual or team can focus their attention on behaviors that will accomplish the goal, they also divert attention away from behaviors that will not achieve the goal. Goals energize people to expend more effort based upon the effort expected to reach that goal (Redmond, 2010). Goals also lead to persistent pursuit of reaching the goal by providing a purpose for that pursuit (Latham, 2004). Lastly, when a person is pursuing a goal, they will strategize the best way to meet their goals.
Mechanism Direct Attention
Description Goals direct attention to behaviors that will accomplish the goal and away from the behaviors that will not achieve the goal. Inspiration to put out a certain amount of effort.
Example In trying to become a proficient airline pilot, one would expect to train long hours in the flight simulator to achieve proficiency. An individual who wants to become an airline pilot will train to prepare themselves on a high level to accomplish this goal. The individual that wants to become an airline pilot will study hard and train longer hours. In trying to become an airline pilot a person might look for ways or techniques to maximize their training.
How much time that is spent on the behavior to achieve a goal. In wanting to achieve a goal the individual seeks out a way to achieve it.
Goal Setting Theory Conditions There are necessary conditions that must be met to make goals effective in invoking motivation through the above mechanisms. These conditions are goal acceptance/goal commitment, goal specificity, goal difficulty, and feedback on progress toward the goal. 1. Goal Acceptance/Goal Commitment Before a goal can be motivating to an individual, one must accept the goal. Accepting a goal is the first step in creating motivation (Locke & Latham, 2002). Goal commitment is the degree of determination one uses to achieve an accepted goal. Two primary factors that help to enhance goal commitment are importance and self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is the belief that one can attain their goal. Importance refers to the factors which make goal attainment important to people, including the importance of the outcomes that they expect as a result of working to attain a goal (Locke & Latham, 2006). These factors can be as simple as making a public announcement about the commitment, or as complicated as a formal program of inspirational mentoring and leadership. Importance and self-efficacy also require acknowledgment of the benefits of personalizing the goal. The individual must find the goal important and must believe they can achieve it (Locke & Latham, 2006). Making the importance of the goal personal provides the
individual with the motivation to move beyond failure and maintain the path toward the goal. Research by Erez, Earley, and Hulin (1985) indicates that participation in setting ones own goals result in a higher rate of acceptance. Locke and Latham determined that when goal difficulty is held constant, performance between participatively set and assigned goals do not differ significantly as long as the goal is accepted (Locke & Latham, 2002). Their explanation for the discrepancy lies in the way the goal was presented. If the objectives were explained to the participants, motivation was increased. Alternatively, if goals were briefly administered with little explanation, motivation was lower. In other words, the goals need to be specific, which leads us to our next condition. Klein, Wesson, Hollenbeck, Wright, and DeShon (2001), developed a five-item scale for assessing goal commitment. Responses are provided on a five-point Likert scale using strongly diagree to strongly agree end-points. Goal Commitment Scale 1 Its hard to take this goal seriously
2 Quite frankly, I dont care if I achieve this goal of not. 3 I am strongly committed to pursuing this goal. 4 It wouldnt take much to make me abandon this goal. 5 I think this is a good goal to shoot for. *Note: Items followed by indicate that the item should be reverse-scored before analysis. Developed by Klein, Wesson, Hollenbeck, Wright, and DeShon (2001) 2. Goal Specificity A goal must be specific and measurable. It should answer the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the expectations of the goal. Specificity and measurability provide an external referent (such as time, space, increment, etc.) to gauge progress, whereas vague do better goals are ambiguous and often have little effect on motivation. Removing ambiguity allows one to focus on precise actions and behaviors related to goal achievement. The more specific the goal, the more explicitly performance will be regulated. Specific goals lead to a higher task performance by employees than the vague or abstract goals (Locke & Latham, 2006). A person can set a general goal to sell more cars per month; however, setting a goal to sell two cars per day for the next thirty days is more specific and therefore effective. Goals without an external referent allow for a wide range of acceptable performance levels (Locke & Latham, 2002, p. 706). In order for performance to increase, goals must be challenging, specific, and concrete.
Goals should be: Conceivable ---> One should conceptualize the goal so that it is understandable clearly. Believable---> One should believe that the goal can be reached and that other people believe in it. Achievable---> One should ask themselves if given their strengths and weaknesses can they reach their desired goal (Locke, E.A, 2002) 3. Goal Difficulty The difficulty of a goal affects the motivation and commitment of the individual impacting performance. The basic idea is that the more challenging the goal, the more committed and motivated the person must be, and thus the better the performance (Redmond, 2010). The highest level of effort occurs when the task is moderately difficult and the lowest level occurs when the task is either very easy or very hard (Locke & Latham, 2002, p. 705). An easy goal will be perceived as an unnecessary thing to do, therefore, enthusiasm to attain the goal will dwindle. Furthermore, goals that are too difficult come with obstacles that often discourage motivation. For an individual it is both the perception and the reality of the greater needs associated with a challenging goal that leads to the motivation and commitment to exert more effort. A goal that is challenging, but attainable, can increase a person's motivation for the task, but when given a task with the appropriate difficulty level and specificity, how the task is established (participative or assigned) is not a differentiating factor. Gergen and Vanourek (2009) suggest setting "BHAGs- "big, hairy, audacious goals" - that really stretch us" (p. B03). Finding the correct balance between ambitious but achievable is crucial in setting a goal. The figure below illustrates how difficulty level affects motivation and performance:
Goals that are too easy or too difficult negatively affect motivation and performance. The greatest motivation and performance is achieved with moderately difficult goals (somewhere between too easy and too difficult). 4. Feedback Feedback is necessary in order for goals to remain effective and retain commitment. Without feedback people are unaware of their progression or regress