Goal-Setting Theory

Literature on the Concept of Locke's Goal-Setting Theory

Goal-setting theory is a motivational technique based on the concept that the practice of setting specific goal, and ultimately putting efforts to attain the goal, along with appropriate feedback contribute to higher and better task performance.

The Goal-setting Theory is a process theory of motivation developed by E. A. Locke (1968). The theory proposes that people are better motivated as a result of having clear goals.

A goal is a desired result that a person envisions, plans and commits to achieve. Many people endeavor to reach goals within time by setting goal deadline. Goal attainment is only a result of selecting aim, maintaining some guidelines, and putting in hard work.

Goals provide a useful framework for managing motivation through employees setting goals for themselves or having them allocated and working towards them. This is a much more purposeful way of working than just being told to ‘do one’s best’ or ‘try as hard as you can.’

On the face of it, this is a straightforward idea but the challenge is to develop a thorough understanding the process by which people set goals that are appropriate and achievable and then accomplish them.

Principles for Goal-Setting Process

Goal-setting is synonymous to identifying something that you want to do and what measures are required to get it done. The process of setting goal is based on the acronym “SMART”, which involves a principle that calls for establishing a goal that is,

This criteria is commonly attributed to Peter Drucker’sOpens in new window Management by ObjectivesOpens in new window in his book Practice of Management (1954). The following research propositions also support the criteria:

Self efficacy theory has significance for goal setting theory. It concerns the belief that an individual has about whether he/she is capable of achieving a task. For difficult tasks people who have low self-esteem are likely to reduce their effort or give up altogether but those with high self efficacy try harder to succeed.

Also, people with high self efficacy accept negative feedback and increase their efforts to improve, whilst those with negative efficacy do the opposite. It is argued that setting a high goal for an employee can lead to employees having higher self efficacy as their boss’ belief in them leads to increased confidence.

Orgin & Research Contexts of Locke's Goal-Setting Theory

Edwin A. Locke, an American psychologist and a retired Professor of Motivation and Leadership at the Robert H. Smith School of Business in the University of Maryland, began to examine goal setting in the mid 1960s and continued his research for 30 years. He proposed goals and intentions are important determinants of task performance.

Edwin A. LockeOpens in new window in his paper “Toward a Theory of Task Motivation and Incentives” has explained the focus of the goal orientation theory. This research has focused on individual’s conscious ideas that regulated his action. Based on findings on the research, hard goals produce a higher level of performance (output) than easy goals. The specific hard goals produce a higher level of output than a goal of ‘do your best’. Moreover, behavioral intentions regulate choice behavior.

The theory also reviews goal and intentions as mediators of the effects of the incentives on task performance. Monetary incentives, time limits and knowledge of results do not affect performance levels independently of the individual’s goals and intentions.

Finally, behavioral intentions were found to mediate the effects of money and verbal reinforcement on choice behavior. Necessary conditions for incentives to affect behavior are that the individual recognize and evaluate the incentive and develop goals and/or intentions in response to this evaluation.

By understanding goal-setting theory, you can effectively apply the principles to goals that you or your team members set. Smart goal setting and their theory continues to influence the way we measure performance today.

Use clear, challenging goals, and commit yourself to achieving them. Give feedback on the set goal performance considering the complexity of the task. Just start following these simple rules and your goal-setting process will become much more successful, and your overall performance will improve.