Goal-Setting in Management

Goal setting in management is a motivational tool in the workplace. Goal setting in the work environment can be highly effective and act as an indicator of an employee's work ethic and job performance. Managers enforce goal setting so that employees can regulate their own work.

A good manager will elicit the best work performance from employees; a competent manager will implement realistic and motivational goals. According to Edwin A. Locke and a number of psychologists and experts in business, the more specific the goal, the greater chance the goal-setter has of accomplishing that goal. The basic precept of Locke's goal-setting theory is that performance is a positive function of goal difficulty. He states: "A review of both laboratory and field studies on the effects of setting goals when performing a task found that in 90% of the studies, specific and challenging goals lead to higher performance than easy goals, "do your best" goals, or no goals. Goals affect performance by directing attention, mobilizing effort, increasing persistence, and motivating strategy development."

People are inherently motivated to be competent and autonomous; autonomous means that they have the full capacity to make their own decisions. A manager cannot and should not direct an employee on every aspect of his or her work; an employee needs room for decision-making that furthers motivation and creativity. Goal setting offers a non-intrusive framework for the employee.

There are multiple facets in challenges posed by goal setting in the workplace. The book Work Motivation highlights these aspects. Challenges may include a specific amount of work that needs completing, deadlines, the level of responsibility and budgets to be maintained. Prerequisites for success in achieving goals include ability, commitment, feedback, self-efficacy and task difficulty or complexity. As stated in Work Motivation, "ability has stronger effects among high-goal than among low-goal individuals." Commitment is a prerequisite to goal achievement. If commitment declines in the face of increasing goal difficulty, then performance will as well. Employers or managers with great authority in the workplace will elicit more commitment from an employee if he or she personally sets a goal for that employee. The employee sees that task as a personal goal. Peer pressure can also affect commitment. The expectancy theory states that a person will only perform as well as he or she expects. Work performance is thereby directly related to an individual's self-evaluation and self-confidence.

Self-efficacy is an intrinsic motivational tool. Matters of self-esteem and self-efficacy are further stimulants to goal setting. The employee must believe that he or she is capable of accomplishing the goal.Various studies have researched the effect self-efficacy has on goal achievement. Albert Bandura's study in 2000 found that "people with a strong sense of self-efficacy will persevere in the face of failure and setbacks and view obstacles as challenges rather than as reflections of personal deficiencies." Employees with a strong sense of self-efficacy will view obstacles as opportunities, not as threats. People with high levels of self-efficacy and self-confidence will pursue and seek out challenging goals whereas a person with low self-esteem will avoid difficulties. Positive and negative feedback is directly correlated to self-efficacy. An employee with low self-efficacy who receives negative feedback is likely not to work hard, while a person with healthy self-esteem who is given negative feedback is likely to work harder in an effort to prove self-worth. Depending on the employee's frame of mind, positive feedback can be productive or counterproductive. Some will see positive feedback as an indication that no more hard work is necessary; others will use positive feedback as a motivator for further progress.

Keith Curtis, author of From Management Goal Setting to Organizational Results offers practical advice to managers regarding setting challenging yet realistic goals. He says that employees should be rewarded based on their progress, not judged by their successes and failures. Regarding feedback, Curtis says: "Pay and promotion are tangible recognitions of success. However, a survey of public employees found that the most important forms of recognition were personal thanks and credit from the recipients of the work." Satisfaction with work performance is dependent on the direct relationship between performance and rewards. Satisfaction will usually lead to commitment. According to Curtis, goal setting in the management world includes: "assessing the environment; creating a vision (defining the organization's purpose, philosophy, mission, and goals); formulating strategy by setting measurable objectives, including the plans or tactics to attain those objectives; executing the strategy; and controlling and evaluating the entire process."

Goal-Setting in Management: Selected full-text books and articles

Goal Setting: How to Create an Action Plan and Achieve Your Goals By Susan B. Wilson; Michael S. Dobson AMACOM, 2008 (2nd edition)
New Goal-Setting Theory By Lycette, Bill; Herniman, John Industrial Management, Vol. 50, No. 5, September/October 2008
Learning Goals or Performance Goals: Is It the Journey or the Destination? By Seijts, Gerard H.; Latham, Gary P Ivey Business Journal Online, May/June 2006
Goal Setting in Family Firms: Goal Diversity, Social Interactions, and Collective Commitment to Family-Centered Goals By Kotlar, Josip; De Massis, Alfredo Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice, Vol. 37, No. 6, November 2013
The Evolution and Future of High Performance Management Systems By Glenn Bassett Quorum Books, 1993
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 6 "Worker Motivation: Goals and Business Strategy"
Job Feedback: Giving, Seeking, and Using Feedback for Performance Improvement By Manuel London Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2003 (2nd edition)
Librarian’s tip: "Beyond Feedback: Goal Setting" begins on p. 141
Work Motivation in the Context of a Globalizing Economy By Miriam Erez; Uwe Kleinbeck; Henk Thierry Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2001
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 2 "Self-Set Goals and Self-Efficacy as Mediators of Incentives and Personality" and Chap. 10 "VIE Functions, Self-Set Goals, and Performance: An Experiment"
Management of Professionals By Richard L. Shell Marcel Dekker, 2003 (2nd edition)
Librarian’s tip: "Attainment of Mutual Agreement on Job Expectations and Goal Setting" begins on p. 164
Temporarily FREE! Organizational Behavior: Foundations, Theories, and Analyses By John B. Miner Oxford University Press, 2002
Librarian’s tip: "Goal-Setting Theory" begins on p. 233
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