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Goal-setting theory has become one of the most popular[How to reference and link to summary or text] theories in organizational psychology.

History Edit

Edwin A. Locke began to examine this idea in the mid-1960s and continued researching goal setting for thirty years. Locke derived the idea for goal-setting from Aristotle’s form of final causality. Aristotle speculated that purpose can cause action; thus, Locke began researching the impact goals have on individual performance.


For goals to increase performance, one must define them as difficult to achieve and as specific.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Easily-attained goals tend to correlate with lower performance than more difficult goals.[How to reference and link to summary or text] A vague goal does not seem likely to enhance performance.[How to reference and link to summary or text] A goal can become more specific through quantification or enumeration (specifying a certain number or a list), such as by demanding "increasing productivity by 50%"; or by defining certain tasks that need completing.

Goal-performance relationship Edit

Goals can affect performance in three ways:

  1. goals narrow attention and direct efforts to goal-relevant activities, and away from perceived undesirable and goal-irrelevant actions[How to reference and link to summary or text]
  2. goals can lead to more effort; for example, if one typically produces 4 widgets an hour, and has the goal of producing 6, one may work more intensely than one would otherwise in order to reach the goal[How to reference and link to summary or text]
  3. goals influence persistence.[How to reference and link to summary or text] One becomes more prone to work through setbacks or to work harder if pursuing a goal.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

There are 4 factors affecting the goal-directed efforts. Goal difficulty is the level of difficulty to achieve the goal. Goal Commitment is the extent to which a person is interested to reach the goal. Goal specificity means the goal should be relatively clarity and precision to the target. Goal acceptance is the extent to which a person adopts a goal as his or her own.

Moderators Edit

Various moderators can affect the relationship between goals and performance:

  • goal-commitment, the most influential moderator[How to reference and link to summary or text], becomes especially important when dealing with difficult or complex goals. If people lack commitment to goals, they will lack motivation to reach them. In order to become committed to a goal, one must believe in its importance or significance.
  • attainability: individuals must also believe that they can attain — or at least partially reach — a defined goal. If they think no chance exists of reaching a goal, they may not even try.

Feedback Edit

The enhancement of performance through goals requires feedback[How to reference and link to summary or text]. Goal-setting may have little effect if individuals cannot check where the state of their performance in relation to their goal.[How to reference and link to summary or text] Note the importance[How to reference and link to summary or text] of people knowing where they stand in relation to achieving their goals, so they can determine the desirability of working harder or of changing their methods.

Advances in technology can make for giving feedback more effectively. Systems analysts have designed computer programs to track goals for numerous members of an organization. Such computer systems may maintains every employee’s goals, as well as their deadlines for achieving them. Separate methods may check the employee’s progress on a regular basis, and other systems may require perceived slackers to explain themselves, and/or account for how they intend to improve the perception.


Goal-setting theory has its limitations. In an organization, a goal of a manager may not align with the goals of the organization as a whole. In such cases, the goals of an individual may come into direct conflict with the employing organization. Without aligning goals between the organization and the individual, performance may suffer. Moreover, for complex tasks, goal-setting may actual impair performance. In these situations, an individual may become preoccupied with meeting the goals, rather than performing tasks.

See also Edit

References Edit

  • Latham, G. & Edwin Locke, (2002) “Building A Practically Useful Theory of Goal Setting and Task Motivation,” American Psychologist, (57) 9:705-17.
  • Locke, Edwin A. (1968) “Toward a Theory of Task Motivation and Incentives” Organizational behavior and human performance, (3)2: 157-189.
  • Locke, Edwin A. (1996) “Motivation Through Conscious Goal Setting,” Applied and Preventive Psychology, 5:117-124.
  • Locke, Edwin A. (2001) “Motivation by Goal Setting,” Handbook of Organizational Behavior, 2: 43-54.

Footnotes Edit

  1. Goal-setting theory might define "self-efficacy" as an impression that one has the capability of performing in a certain manner or of attaining certain goals. Or one could define "self-efficacy" as a belief that one has the capabilities to execute the courses of actions required to manage prospective situations. Unlike efficacy (defined as the power to produce an effect — in essence, competence), self-efficacy consists of the belief (whether or not accurate) that one has the power to produce that effect. For example, a person with high self-efficacy may engage in a more health-related activity when an illness occurs, whereas a person with low self efficacy may succumb to feelings of hopelessness. Compare David Sue, Derald Wing Sue, Stanley Sue, Understanding Abnormal Behavior, 8th edition, p. 214. — Note the distinction between self-esteem and self-efficacy. Self-esteem in this context relates to a person’s sense of self-worth, whereas self-efficacy relates to a person’s perception of their ability to reach a goal. For example, take the case of an incompetent rock-climber. Though probably afflicted with poor self-efficacy in regard to rock climbing, this hypothetical person could retain their self-esteem unaffected — most people don’t invest much of their self-esteem in this activity. Compare, retrieved 2007-11-24
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