Goal Setting Theory

Research conducted in this field has indicated that there is a positive relationship between goal setting and performance outputs. The prime principles of the goal setting theory state that successful goal setting needs to be assessed on five dimensions: goal clarity, goal challenge, goal commitment, performance feedback, and task complexity. The insights Of the empirical studies discussed in this paper imply that when goal setting is done correctly and thoroughly throughout each stage, it leads to a significant increase in motivation.
Various methods and strategies have been developed to complement the goal setting theory, an example being, the popular mnemonic acronym S. M. A. R. T. Which uses the words specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely to aid in eating effective goals. Goal setting theory is both measurable and quantifiable. Empirical evidence from both experimental and field settings have supported that the benefits (increase in employee performance, increase in employee motivation, increase in profits, etc. ) far outweigh the drawbacks (results from application error, organization costs, human resource efforts).
Based off current research output and the abundance of research still conducted and revised on this theory, it can be concluded that the goal setting theory is an effective theory of motivation and, moving forward, will be a leader in workplace motivation in North America. INTRODUCTION According to Callus’s employee study, workplace disengagement is an alarming issue around the world. In North America, the region with the highest ratio of engaged workers compared to the rest of the world, the proportion of engaged workers is only 29% (Gallup, 2011).

In other words, the vast majority of workers are not reaching their full potential. This has significant implications to the economy, companies, and individuals. With the great deal of emphasis on productivity in today’s marketplace, managers within organizations are constantly searching for effective strategies in motivating staff to achieving organizational goals. The theory of motivation discussed in this paper will be the goal-setting theory, which is arguably one of the most dominant theories in the field of motivation with over a thousand articles and reviews published within the last 30 to 40 years (Lethal, 2006).
The objective of this paper is to produce a summary and evaluation Of the goal setting theory of motivation. The paper will be divided into two sections. The first section will discuss the foundation of the theory along with its main tenets. The second section will provide real life examples of the theory application and critically examine the applicability of the theory in the North American managerial workplace supported by empirical work. FOUNDATION OF THEORY The foundation of the goal setting theory was first developed and refined by the American psychologist, Edwin Locke, in the 1 sass.
Locke was inspired by the final cause in Arteriole’s theory of causality, which states “that for the sake of which” or can be defined as the end or purpose of something. Stemming from Aristotle theory, Locke continued to research on goal setting for thirty years. With the contribution of Locke and other scientists, this theory has now been popularized and become one of the most widely used horses regarding motivation. During Locker’s primary research, he studied the relationship between goal setting variables and task performance.
There were two major sets of initial studies conducted – the difficulty of the goal (difficult versus easy), and the specificity of the goal (specific versus vague) goals. He concluded that difficult goals led to higher performance than easy goals, given that the difficulty was within an attainable limit. His second conclusion was that specific goals were more effective than vague ones (Locke, 1968). Following Locker’s study, Gary Lathe’s research established animal conclusions in his workplace – there was indeed a link between goal setting and workplace performance.
Together, in 1990, they published their seminal work in a book called “A Theory of Goal Setting and Task Performance” (Locke & Lethal, 1990). Along with the two original characteristics of successful goal setting, three additional characteristics have been identified as crucial. The goal setting theory is now guided by five principles: goal clarity, goal challenge, goal commitment, performance feedback, and task complexity. The following paragraphs will briefly discuss each of the five principles and the supporting research.
TENETS OF THE THEORY Research indicates that clear goals can reduce absenteeism, tardiness, and turnover, which all aid in increasing organizational productivity (Locke & Lethal, 2002). A clear goal is defined as being specific and measurable. As Locke mentions in his paper, when the goal is specific and measurable, it provides an external reference such as a time frame, which reduces overall ambiguity (Locke & Lethal, 2002). In six of the eight studies that Locke conducted, the level of performance was significantly higher in the group that was given a specific goal compared to the group that was given a vague goal.
An example of a specific goal would be to “complete X amount in Y time” and a vague goal would be to “do your best”. Another primary issue researched on goal setting was the goal challenge or difficulty. In a meta-analysis of goal setting studies, easy goals were defined as those with greater than 50% probability of attainment and moderate goals being 16%-D% probability of attainment (Klein et al. , 1999). When participants were given these two types of goals, data indicated that, harder goals resulted in higher levels of performance (Klein et al. , 1999).
Optimally, a goal should not be too difficult o a point where it is unattainable and motivation suffers (Bennett, 2009). However, overall on average, the performance level in individuals with higher goals was still significantly higher than those with very easy goals (Klein et al. , 1999). This can be explained by the idea that high goals lead to high performance, which is associated with rewards, and rewards often result in high satisfaction. In other words, individuals are motivated by more difficult goals because of the anticipated accomplishment involved (Locke & Lethal, 2002).
Goal commitment has been said to be a secondary characteristic cause it interacts with goal difficulty to produce performance. It has been found that commitment is crucial for difficult goals, but does not necessarily result in high performance when given an easy goal (Klein et al. , 1999). In a review of the literature, on average across all goal difficulty, it has been concluded that the higher the level of goal commitment, the higher the level of performance output (Klein et al. , 1999). Commitment to a goal can be increased when the goal is individually set or when the individual agrees to the assigned goal.
In environments with high group cohesion, goal ointment of individuals is also found to be high because of the strong influence of group norms (Locke & Lethal, 1991). Furthermore, self-efficacy is also a topic often discussed when relating to goal setting. Self-efficacy refers to an individual’s judgment of their own ability to perform particular activities given their level of skill and ability (Bandeau, 1986). As this is a topic in and of itself, it is important to just note here that self-efficacy plays an important role in goal commitment.
A higher level of self-efficacy in relation to goal attainment (I. E. If the individuals believes he can achieve the goal) exults in a higher level of goal commitment (Lethal & Locke 1991). Performance feedback is necessary for goal setting to be effective because it helps individuals gauge how well they are doing and the adjustments required for improvement. It has been found that when people know they are below their target, they are most likely to increase their effort or devise a new strategy (Lethal & Locke, 1991 Feedback can be provided both during the process of achieving the goal or after the outcome.
Additionally, feedback is also linked to increasing self-efficacy, which in turn leads to a higher performance (Lethal & Locke, 1991). Finally, in 1 996, Lethal examined the relationship between complex goals and performance levels. It was found that complex goals result in higher learning within individuals and thus led to a higher performance when compared to less complex goals. This can be explained by the idea that performance is not always achieved because of effort and persistence, but rather due to the cognitive understanding of the task and the development of various methods in solving the complex task (Lethal & Locke, 1991).
Although this condition has to be addressed with care, complex tasks have been found to have an overall positive effect on reference levels (Lethal, 1996). THEORY IN ACTION The history of workplace motivation was initially driven by the belief that money was the primary source for employee motivation, but it was later found that various factors are motivators in determining workplace satisfaction, which is a predictor of job performance (Lethal, 2006).
In the following decades, it will be crucial for leadership around the world to address the issue of workplace disengagement. In an organization, managers do not have the time and resources to constantly keep track of an employee’s work or motivation. Most organizations use some form of goal setting in operation. Setting goals implies that there is a need or desire to attain a certain object or outcome (Locke & Lethal 2006). In essence, goals tell employees what needs to be accomplished and how much effort should be exerted.
In the North American workplace, the direction of the goal setting theory appears to be an effective strategy in motivating staff to meeting organizational goals; this explains the abundant amount of evidence in us port of the theory and the various strategies constantly being developed. Based off of goal setting theory by Locke and Lethal, a popular mnemonic acronym developed for effective goal setting is S. M. A. R. T by George Doran. The outlined criteria for S. M. A. R. T. Goal setting states that goals should be specific, measurable, assignable, realistic, and time-bound.
There have been other variations of S. M. A. R. T. That are also interchangeable such as using “achievable” and “relevant” instead of “assignable” and “realistic”, respectively. These goal-setting criteria can all be linked back to the five principles summarized by Locke and Lethal and is a popular management strategy used in the workforce. The implications of new strategies and discoveries suggest that goal setting is not an innate attribute that individuals are born tit. It a skill that can be taught, learnt, and practiced.
The resources required by an organization to train its employees on successful goal setting is practical and the return can be significant. Large organizations such as General Electric (GE) and Federal Express Company (Faded) have also implemented this theory in their organizations. GE applies goal setting theory in all levels of the organization and refers to goal setting as a key ingredient of their success. After a trial run, Faded found that employees had greater accountability, clearer expectations, and more precise feedback towards their jobs. The initiative was then executed throughout other departments in the organization.
In Locke and Lathe’s report, they found truck drivers saved the company $250,000 in 9 months when the logs loaded on the trucks were increased as a result of upping the assigned goals (Locke & Lethal, 2002). In 1967, it was found that, United Fund communities that set monetary goals higher than the previous year’s performance raised more money than communities that set goals lower than their previous years performance. More recent studies show, negotiators who have clear, challenging, and complex goals achieve higher profits than those with no goals (Locke &
Lethal, 2002) and telecommunication employees that set specific high goals had higher job satisfaction and high performance (Locke & Lethal 2002). These are just a few empirical examples of successful goal setting evidence in this field. The goal setting theory is especially prominent in individualistic cultures such as North America. This can be explained by the notion that goals have the ability to function as a self-regulatory mechanism that helps individuals prioritize tasks; also why managers widely accept goal setting as a means to improve and sustain performance (Dublin, 2012).
The insights to all he studies show that when goal setting is done correctly and thoroughly throughout each stage, it significantly increases motivation, which is then associated with numerous other positive outcomes such as an increase in job satisfaction, an increase in organizational commitment, an increase in performance, and more (Locke & Lethal, 2002). Aside from the countless examples of goal setting successes, there are still some limitations and weaknesses of the theory. The goal setting theory cannot be applied in segments and because of that, the outcomes of the set goals can be different than the initial intent.
For instance, if a goal is not clear (I. E. It does not address the specific and measurable outcome), it is easy for the individual to lose track of the goal and the goal may never be achieved. Another consequence of the goal being unclear, the performance feedback aspect of the goal can be difficult to execute because there is no measurable component and it will be challenging to determine the adjustments required. On the other hand, if the goal encompasses all five principles, but is too difficult, the individual will not be able to achieve it regardless. It may even result in a hindrance in motivation and performance.
Apart from the error in application, some other weaknesses include: individuals setting too many goals and not being able to follow through, individuals concentrating on only one goal and losing sight of the others resulting in tunnel vision, and individuals focusing too much attention on the outcome and forgetting about the process (Lethal, 2004). There are various extensions of the goal setting theory that are beyond the scope of this paper. Advances in the research are currently leaning towards studying how other goal setting variables such as learning goals, goal framing, and subconscious goals, interact with reference (Lethal, 2004).

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