Achievement Goals in Organizations: Is There Support for Mastery-Avoidance?

By Baranik, Lisa E.; Lau, Abigail R. et al. | Journal of Managerial Issues, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

Achievement Goals in Organizations: Is There Support for Mastery-Avoidance?


Baranik, Lisa E., Lau, Abigail R., Stanley, Laura J., Barron, Kenneth E., Lance, Charles E., Journal of Managerial Issues


When individuals engage in achievement-related behaviors, such as working hard on work tasks, they have different purposes or goals in mind. Achievement goals describe these underlying aims for engaging in given achievement tasks and are thought to shape how individuals approach, experience, and react to achievement situations (Dweck and Leggett, 1988; Elliot, 2005). Performance-approach goals refer to striving to be the best relative to others, whereas performance-avoidance goals refer to a focus on avoiding being the worst. Mastery-approach goals take a different angle and instead focus on an individual learning as much as possible about a task. The most recently posited and most contested achievement goal is mastery-avoidance, defined as a "focus on avoiding self-referential or task-referential incompetence ... [that entails] striving to avoid losing one's skills and abilities (or having their development stagnate), forgetting what one has learned, misunderstanding material, or leaving a task incomplete" (Elliot and McGregor, 2001: 61).

These achievement goals are important for workplace behavior because adoption of different goals leads to different employee outcomes such as employee production (Donovan, 2009; Payne et al., 2007), cooperation (Midgley et al., 2001), emotional well-being, help-seeking, and cognitive engagement (Linnenbrink, 2005). Understanding these goals can help managers successfully motivate employees. For example, performance-avoidant individuals tend to avoid asking for help (VandeWalle and Cummings, 1997) because they are afraid of looking incompetent in front of others. Managers who are aware of this pattern can encourage learning over perfect performance and avoid punishing mistakes, resulting in an environment where even performance-avoidant individuals are more likely to seek out help when they need it. Furthermore, since those individuals endorsing performance goals may be more competitive, managers may want to encourage a more cooperative work environment through teamwork, or by modifying approaches to performance evaluation in order to focus on individual rather than comparative performance.

To better understand the newest achievement goal mastery-avoidance, Baranik et al. (2007) updated VandeWalle's (1997) measure of achievement goals for a work setting to include a scale for the mastery-avoidance goal. The original study alone is insufficient to support general use of the instrument in the workplace since the study relied on a college student sample, and the authors cannot assume that the properties of the scale would extend to older worker populations (American Educational Research Association, American Psychological Association, National Council on Measurement in Education, 1999), especially when there is evidence that motivation changes across the lifespan due to the different competencies that college students are trying to master as compared to older individuals (Heckhausen, 2005). To empirically investigate whether the instrument can support inferences for other worker populations, the current paper provides a measurement invariance study comparing college-aged workers to older employees. This is a critical step in establishing the validity of the scale. If invariance is established, the existing validity evidence for the scale can be applied to worker populations, allowing management researchers greater confidence that scores from the scale accurately reflect the theoretical motivational goals. Without this work, the link between the scores on the scale and theoretical motivational goals, and therefore research using the scale, is tenuous.

LITERATURE REVIEW

Elliot (2005) suggested that individuals have different referents for gauging their competence on achievement-related tasks that shape which achievement goal is pursued. When using task referents (i.e., absolute standards) or self-referents (i.e., past performance), competence evaluations are linked to mastery achievement goals. …

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