Goal-Setting Theory and Attainment Strategies

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In the field of business, goal-setting theory states that an organization and its employees should be given specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-targeted (SMART) goals. Without clearly defined goals, an organization cannot succeed and thrive. The framework of this theory was first put forth by Locke and Latham (1994). They stated that the reason that “…some people performed better on work tasks than others…must lie in the realm of motivation” (Locke & Latham, 1994, p. 15). Without goals, there can be no meaningful motivation. These same authors later (2006) expanded on this theory to include “goal choice…the function of learning goals, the effect of goal framing, goals and affect (well-being)” and many other factors (Locke & Latham, 2006, p. 265).

Their later research includes the concept that simply presenting goals is not enough; how the goals are presented is at least as important as the goals themselves. Above all, employees must believe in those goals, a state commonly known as “buy-in.” In terms of goal attainment, Shah, Higgins, and Friedman (1998) focused on incentives, with the reasonable premise that employees need more than the abstraction of a goal. They found that individuals’ performance on a financial incentive-based task was greater when the goal was “framed in terms of gains and non-gains” rather than the opposite (i.e., losses and non-losses) (Shah et al., 1998, p. 285). Thus, “accentuate the positive” is good advice for managers attempting to craft incentives for employees to strive for organizational goals. Förster, Higgins, and Idsen (1998) expanded on this idea when in a similar study, they found that, as predicted, “Participants with a promotion focus worked longer on anagrams closer to the goal when they were approach means for goal attainment than when they were avoidance means” (Förster et al., 1998, 1115). In other words, human motivation was stronger when participants focused on achieving potential gains rather than avoiding potential losses. What is interesting here is that many studies have shown that in general, people are risk-averse, suggesting that conventional psychology may not apply here.

References

Förster, J., Higgins, E. T., & Idson, L. C. (1998). Approach and avoidance strength during goal attainment: Regulatory focus and the "goal looms larger" effect. Journal of personality and social psychology, 75(5), 1115-1131.

Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (1994). Goal setting theory. Motivation: Theory and research, 13-29.

Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (2006). New directions in goal-setting theory. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 15(5), 265-268.

Shah, J., Higgins, T., & Friedman, R. S. (1998). Performance incentives and means: How regulatory focus influences goal attainment. Journal of personality and social psychology, 74(2), 285-293.