Goal setting theory with a case

A manager or a team leader or a game captain expects from each one of his team members to be physically and mentally ready and do their best and nobody expects more than that from any of the team members.

The phrase “Just do your best” is heard a number of times from all the quarters involving teams and groups. That’s all anyone can ask for. But what does ‘do your best’ mean? Do we ever know if we’ve achieved that vague goal? Would the cross country runners have recorded faster times? To achieve the best the captains or group leaders must give specific goals to achieve. The research on goal setting theory addresses these issues, and the findings, as you’ll see, impressive in terms of the effect that goal specificity, challenge, and feedback have on performance.

In the late 1960s, Edwin Locke proposed that intentions to work toward a goal are 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 goods. More to the point we can say that specific goals increase performance; that difficult goals, when accepted result in higher performance than do easy goals; and that feedback leads to higher performance than does non-feedback.

Specific goals produce a higher level of output than does the generalized goal of ‘do you best’. Why? The specificity of the goal itself seems to act as an internal stimulus. For instance, a trucker commits to making 12 round trip hauls between Toronto and Buffalo, New York, each week, the intention gives him specific objective to try to attain. W can say that, all things being equal, the trucker with a specific goal will outperform a counterpart operating with no goals or the generalized goal of ‘do your best’.

If factors such as acceptance of the goals are held constant, we can also state that the more difficult the goal, the higher the level of performance. Of course, it’s logical to assume that easier goals are more likely to be accepted. But once a hard task is accepted the employee can be expected to exert a high level of effort to try and achieve it.

But why are people more motivated by difficult goals. First, difficult goals direct our attention to the task at hand and away from irrelevant distractions. Challenging goals get our attention and thus tend to help us focus. Second, difficult goals energize us because we have to work harder to attain them. For example, think of your study habits, do you study as hard for an easy exam as you would for a difficult one? Probably not. Third, when goals are difficult, people persist in trying to attain them. Finally, difficult goals led us to discover strategies that help us perform the job or task more effective. If we have to struggle for a way to solve a difficult problem, we often think of a better way to go about it.

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

Goal setting theory presupposes that an individual is committed to the goal; that is, an individual is determined not to lower or abandon the goal. Behaviorally this means that an individual (1) believes as he or she can achieve the goal and (2) wants to achieve it. Goal commitment 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. Research indicates that goal setting theory doesn’t work equally well on tasks. The evidence suggest that goals seem to have a more substantial effect on performance when tasks are simple rather than complex well learned rather than novel, and independent rather than interdependent. On interdependent tasks, group goals are preferable.