Goal setting theory


The coach of a reputed Sports Club gave the athletes these last words before they approached the line for the league championship race: “Each one of you is physically ready. Now, get out there and do your best. No one can ever ask more of you than that.�

The phrase is heard a number of times by almost everybody which is “Just do your best. That’s all anyone can ask for.� We may not even know if we’ve achieved a vague goal. If the coach had given a specific goal to shoot for the runners could have recorded faster times.

Likewise a student might have done better in the high school English class if the parents had said, asking him to strive for 85% or higher in the English examination as compared to telling “do your best�? The research on goal-setting theory addresses these issues, and the findings are impressive in terms of the effect the goal setting, challenge and feedback have, on performance.

In the late 1960s, Edwin Locke proposed that intentions to work towards a goal are a major source of work motivation. That is, goals tell an employee what needs to be done and how much effort will need to be expended. The evidence strongly supports the value of goals. More to the point, we can say that specific goals increase performance than difficult goals. Specific goals when accepted result in higher performance than do easy goals and that feedback leads to higher performance than the goals achieved without a feedback.

Specific hard goals produce a higher level of output than does the generalized goal of “do your best.� The specificity of the goal itself seems to act as an internal stimulus. For instance, when a trucker commits to making 12 round-trip hauls between Mumbai and Pune each week, his intention gives him a specific objective to try and attain the goal. We can say that, all things being equal, the trucker with a specific goal will outperform his or her counterpart operating with no goals or the generalized goal of “do your best.�

In a business school, a professor gave building blocks to the students and asked them to build as high as they could. The group was able to achieve 14 levels. To the next group the professor gave a target of 19 levels, and the group could achieve 21 levels. Thus, under the same conditions, goal setting helped the second group to outperform the first. The professor said to another group 3, in similar conditions that group 2 has achieved 21 levels and how much capable are group 3. This has acted as a motivational force and to his surprise the group 3 achieved 25 levels.

If factors such as ability and acceptance of the goals are held constant, we can also state that the more difficult the goal, the higher the level of performance. It is logical to assume that easier goals are more likely accepted, but once an employee accepts a hard task, he or she can be expected to exert a high level of effort to try to achieve or even overcome it.

People will do better when they get feedback on how well they are progressing towards their goals because feedback helps to identify discrepancies between what they have done and what they want to do. Feedback acts to guide behavior. But all feedback is not equally potent. Self-generated feedback for which the employee s able to monitor his or her own progress has been shown to be a more powerful motivator than externally generated feedback.

If employees have the opportunity to participate in the setting of their own goals, will they try harder? The evidence is mixed regarding the superiority of participative over assigned goals. In some cases, participative set goals elicited superior performance, while in other cases, individuals performed best when assigned goals by their boss. But a major advantage of participation may be in increasing acceptance of the goal itself as a desirable one towards which to work. It is to be noted resistance is greater when goals are difficult. If people participate in goal setting, they are more likely to accept even a difficult goal than if they re arbitrarily assigned it by their boss. The reason is that individuals are more committed to choices in which they have a part. Participative goals may have no superiority over assigned goals when acceptance is taken as given, participation does increase the probability that more difficult goals will be agreed to and acted on.

Goal-setting theory presupposes that an individual is committed to the goal; that is, is determined not to lower or abandon the goal. This is most likely to occur when goals are made public, when the individual has an internal locus of control, and when the goals are self-set rather than assigned.

In conclusion Performance appraisal practiced in organizations has evolved from the aforesaid theory. The boss and the candidate are both participants and the goals set are realistic. They may not be easy or impossible ones. Any slackness in goal setting, by the candidate, is taken care of by the boss and corrected to achieve desirable target. Any impractical target set by the boss, is discussed by the candidate with his superior and the right target could be set.

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