What's the Theory of Goal Setting

The Theory of Goal Setting - What is the best way of Setting Goals?

In 1968, Dr Edwin Locke's article "Toward a Theory of Task Motivation and Incentive', he stated that staff were motivated by

  1. clear goals and
  2. appropriate feedback

This theory of goal setting sounds so simple and obvious but do we all set the goals and do it it in the most appropriate format. Surprisingly he found that if the goals that are too easy they are less motivating! Also it is important to be specific.

Telling someone that you 'want an improvement in sales' is less effective than saying 'improve sales by 10% by December'.

Dr Gary Latham, in his research a few years later into the effect of goal setting in the workplace confirmed what Dr Locke had found but also added established a clear link between improved performance and goal setting.

In 1990 both Locke and Latham published five principles of goal setting. Here they are in outline

  1. Clarity Goals must be clear and specific to be most effective. This is often encapsulated in the SMART acronym
  2. Challenge Goals must be reasonably challenging and realistic to have the most impact. If you make the gaols too easy staff might not be excited or motivated sufficiently.
  3. Commitment There is old management formula -

    Participation + Involvement = Commitment

    If staff are involved and participate in goal setting there will be a far greater commitment to achieving the goals.

  4. Feedback Again an old management axiom - 'What you don't measure - you can't improve'. You must be able to measure progress to achieving your goals.

    Feedback is essential and is where business intelligence can play it's part. By creating strategic dashboards managers and employees can track progress against the goals and if problems are encountered use analytical dashboards to troubleshoot to find the root causes.

  5. Complexity When people are issued a complex goal it is important to give them sufficient time firstly to learn what is needed and then complete the goal. So think carefully before setting deadlines.

    Deadlines are great...they tend to get things done, but it is so easy to underestimate the difficulty of certain activities or tasks. It might be an idea to break down the goal into sub-goals. It is also vital to track progress on goals, then you will get early feedback on whether the deadline is far too tight. You can then adjust the goal.

Apply the theory of goal setting and you will be well on the way to improving the performance of your organisation.

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