Goal Setting Theory of Motivation

Edwin Locke’s goal setting theory is among the most dominant theories of work motivation. Systematic and rigorous reviews and meta-analyses have found substantial support for the basic principles of the goal-setting theory. This theory emphasizes that all behavior is motivated, and motivation is a goal-directed process. So, the level of motivation depends on the kind of goals that are set and the way internal and external factors affecting the process between goal identification to goal achievement are managed.

Edwin Locke’s goal setting theory believes that a person who has found his goal will also find the knowledge and skills necessary to achieve it. Edwin Locke found that the conditions necessary for goal accomplishment change on the basis of feedback, goal commitment, ability, and task complexity.

The goals can be in term of:

Criteria  Type of Goals
Number Single or multiple goals
Complexity Single/easy or difficult/complex goals
Specificity
General or specific goals
Existence Goals exist or there are no goals
Alignment Self-assigned or imposed goals

 

In the case of organizations, multiple goals, easy or difficult goals, specific or general goals are more relevant. There are hardly any situations where employees work on a single goal or have no goals. Researches on goal setting and motivation have some interesting findings:

  • The highest level of individual performance occurs when individuals are highly committed to difficult goals and when their efforts are supported by specific outcomes and process feedback.
  • Consistently better performance requires specific and difficult goals rather than specific but easy goals, or general goals such as ‘do your best’, or no goals.
  • Effective goal setting requires the following dimensions:
    1. Feedback: The performer should be informed about the progress towards the goal. Specific outcome feedback tells the individual what change is needed and specific process feedback that tells the individual how to change.
    2. Employee commitment to the goal: If performer committed to the goal believes ‘I can do this’ and has been involved in the goal-setting process, he would be more committed to the achievement of a goal.
  • Too many goals should be avoided. Multiple goals create conflict within the individual and one goal may be sacrificed for meeting another goal. When a difficult task involves quantity and quality goals, people may tend to neglect the quality goal and maximize the quantity goal. When the rewards are valued highly, the tasks with a high probability of a positive outcome are chosen rather than the most desirable one.
  • When tasks are complex, general – ‘do your best’ goals and not specific, difficult goals result in higher performance. Specific, difficult goals lead to a higher quantity of performance on a simpler version of the same task.
  • When the goal is difficult, the provision of external evaluation may reduce intrinsic motivation when the goal is achieved.
  • When the goal is difficult, individuals experience far greater total motivation – both extrinsic and intrinsic, compared to individuals who are assigned easy goals. The difference in total motivation accounts for the performance results.

Advantages of Goal Setting Theory

  • Goal setting theory is a technique used to increase incentives for employees to complete work effectively.
  • If the performer committed to the goal believes ‘I can do this’ and has been involved in the goal-setting process, he would be more committed to the achievement of a goal.

Limitations of Goal Setting Theory

  • Multiple goals create conflict within the individual and one goal may be sacrificed for meeting another goal.
  • When the rewards are valued highly, the tasks with a high probability of a positive outcome are chosen rather than the most desirable one.
  • When a difficult task involves quantity and quality goals, people may tend to neglect the quality goal and maximize the quantity goal.
  • It’s not necessary that goal-setting improves job satisfaction.

This understanding needs to be applied in the workplace so that through the motivated efforts of its employees, the organization gets the desired performance and the employees get personal satisfaction.

Sonia Kukreja

I am a mother of a lovely kid, and an avid fan technology, computing and management related topics. I hold a degree in MBA from well known management college in India. After completing my post graduation I thought to start a website where I can share management related concepts with rest of the people.
Sonia Kukreja