People Innovation Excellence

Goal-Setting Theory

Goal-Setting Theory

By: Novita, S.Kom, MBA

The goal-setting program may be carried out on the individual level to help employees improve their productivity or advance their careers. Goal setting also may be carried out on a group basis, especially if individuals are required to work with one another. Goal setting on a departmental level serves to improve productivity and gives direction to the department’s efforts.

The basic premise of goal-setting theory, as formulated by Edwin Locke and Gary Latham, is that the actions of individuals are regulated by their conscious intentions and values. (Brown, Harvey pg. 373)

The major findings of goal-setting theory are summarized below:

  1. More Difficult Goals Produce Better Performance

The effect on performance of assigning easy goals is no better than the effect of not having any goals at all. A goal has to be more than the expectation that one will complete one’s basic job requirements. Goals are only effective if they are difficult and challenging.

  1. Specific Hard Goals Are Better than “Do Your Best” Goals

In addition to being difficult and challenging, goals should also be specific. Specific goals show exactly what constitutes acceptable performance. Goals of this kind are specific and are expressed in quantitative terms or as specific events; that is, they include time frames, standards, quotas, monetary amounts, and the like. Recent research suggests that when the task is complex and there are many optimum strategies, goals should be expressed in general terms. For example, the manager of a department in a constant state of change may find that setting specific goals leads to rigid behavior and neglecting new opportunities.

  1. People May Abandon Goals If They Become Too Hard

Although goals should be difficult, people must be able to attain or at least approach them; otherwise, they will view the goal as impossible, become discouraged, and may abandon it. An individual is more likely to accept or choose a goal when there is a high expectation of reaching it. In several studies where goals were perceived to be impossible, performance decreased. The difficulty of the goals suggests that they were not accepted in the first place.

  1. Participation in Setting Goals Increases Commitment and Attainment of Goals

Employees are more committed to self-set goals than to goals assigned by a manager. In addition, job satisfaction increases when people participate in setting their goals. Participation puts employees more in control of their environment and helps to reduce stress.

  1. Feedback and Goals Improve Performance

The combination of goal setting with feedback on individual performance has a positive effect on performance. In contrast, giving feedback on performance without having previously set goals does not lead to improved performance. Information about the outcome of the performance, such as whether a goal was met, should be included, but it is also important to include information about how to adjust in order to accomplish the goal better. Frequent, relevant, and specific feedback is important for goal setting to be a success. The feedback should occur as soon after the work activity as possible so that the individual remembers the event and its details.

  1. Individual Differences Tend Not to Affect Goal Setting

Studies show that goal-setting programs are successful regardless of the education and job position of the subjects. Some goal-setting programs in organizations are limited to upper and middle management, but research findings suggest that goal setting is just as successful for positions requiring minimum education and skills.

The success of a goal-setting program is not contingent upon how many years of service an employee has with an organization. There are some individual differences that should be considered in goal-setting programs. People with a strong need for achievement and with high self-esteem are more likely to commit themselves to difficult goals than people with a weak need for achievement and low self-esteem. Commitment will not be forthcoming from people with a weak need for achievement simply because they have participated in setting their goals. In all probability, only external rewards or punishments will be successful in building commitment for people of this type.

  1. Goal Setting in Teams Deserves Special Consideration

Setting difficult individual goals for an interdependent team task will likely result in poorer performance than when a team goal is set or even when there is no team goal at all. People engaged in individual goal setting tend to be more competitive and less cooperative, two conditions that were discussed in previous chapters as dysfunctional for team and inter team performance. When people are engaged in interdependent work, it is important that their individual goals facilitate the attainment of the team goal. A manager explicitly specifying which goal is more important can achieve cooperation in goal setting. Another way to get cooperation is through participative goal setting in the context of a team-building session.

  1. Managerial Support Is Critical

Support for goal-setting programs by all levels of management is crucial to their success. Leaders should maintain optimism by publicizing even small steps forward. Supervisors should be present to encourage the acceptance of goals by employees, help them improve their skills, and give timely feedback on how the goals are being accomplished. Those who accomplish goals should be rewarded, but the rewards need to be applied consistently. If some people are acknowledged and rewarded but others are not, employees will quickly lose respect for the program. (Brown, Harvey pg. 374-376)

Brown, Donald R. and Don Harvey. 2010. An Experiential Approach To Organization Development 8th edition. Prentice Hall.


Published at : Updated
Written By
Novita, S.Kom, MBA
LS2 | IBM
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