This essay will explain the goal setting theory. I will review theories related to goal setting. Then I will apply the theories to a work example. Lastly, I will provide recommendations based on the theories. Literature review:
Goal setting is a theory of motivation, which may give employees a sense of purpose, challenge, and meaning to their work as well as a sense of accomplishment (Latham 2007, p. 62). Effective goal setting has according to Medlin and Green (2009, p. 952) been a driver of performance for decades. Latham and Locke (1990, p. 261) states that goals direct attention to the activity specified by the goal and simultaneously away from goal-irrelevant activities. The core finding of goal setting research is that specific high goals when accepted, lead to higher performance than no goals or vague goals (Latham 2007, p. 53). The importance of the goal to the individual and self-efficacy (i.e. self-confidence that the goal for a specific task is attainable) influences the commitment of an individual to a goal (Latham & Locke, 2007, p. 291). However, if there is no commitment to the goal, no motivational effects will occur from goal setting (Slocum, Cron and Brown, 2002, p. 77). According to Latham and Locke (1990, p. 95) goals motivate individuals to be persistent, and challenging goals inspire the individual to be determined in not settling for less than could be achieved. Furthermore, goals can affect performance indirectly by motivating the individual to develop task specific strategies (Latham & Locke, 1990, p. 261). Goals are moderated by ability, goal commitment, feedback in relation to goal pursuit, the complexity of the task, and situational factors (e.g., presence of needed resources) (Latham & Locke, 2007, p. 291). An employee’s motivation is according to Latham and Locke (2007, p. 291) affected by specific challenges and demands such as high goals. However, people automatically use the knowledge and skills they have already acquired that are relevant to achieve the goal (Latham & Locke, 2002, p. 707). In the absence of knowledge or ability, setting a specific high goal can have a negative effect on a person’s performance (Kanfer & Ackerman, 1989, p. 661). A learning goal should be set rather than an outcome goal when the knowledge or skill for attaining the goal is unknown (Latham & Locke 2007, p. 293). A situational constraint to effective goal setting is environmental uncertainty, which might be due to unavailable information in order to set efficient outcome or learning goals (Seijts & Latham, 2001, p. 292). In order for goals to affect performance, Erez and Zidon (1984, p. 77) state that there must be commitment to the goals, that is, employees must be truly trying to attain them. One important factor that facilitates goal commitment is the belief that the individual are able to attain the goal (i.e., high self-efficacy), and the importance of the outcome that they expect as a result of working to attain the goal is yet another important factor (Locke & Latham, 2002, p. 707). An employee’s success in achieving challenging but attainable goals is associated with positive and valued (high-valence) outcomes (Fried & Slowic, 2004, p. 406). Examples of internal outcomes are a sense of accomplishment, escape from feeling bored or useless, and proving oneself. External outcomes are for example, higher income, job security, and opportunities for promotions. The higher the importance of these expected outcomes for the person, the higher the goal commitment to attain it (Latham, 2007, p. 185). Locke and Latham (1990, p. 242) suggest that when feedback allows performance to be tracked in relation to one’s goal, goal setting is more effective. When people find they are below target, they normally increase their effort or try a new strategy (Matsui, Okada, & Inoshita, 1983, p. 410). If the employees do not know how they are doing, it is difficult for them to adjust their performance strategies to match what the goal requires (Locke & Latham, 1990, p. 242). When the goal is set, it is the person’s perception of how well he or she will perform, that will determine the level of performance, hence the importance of one’s self efficacy (Latham, 2007, p.82). According to Lee and Bobko (1992, p.364) a goal is perceived to be less difficult when a person’s self-efficacy is high. Also, people with high self-efficacy adjust their level of performance to negative feedback more effectively than do people who have low self-efficacy. Allowing employees to participate in goal setting lead consistently to higher level of commitment as participation generally make the goals more important to the individual, and the goals would be set based on previous performance and current knowledge (Latham & Locke, 1990, p 109). The employee will usually have a higher self-efficacy and therefore perform better than those who do not participate in setting the goals (Locke, 2002, p. 708). Example
In a previous job, I was given a specific outcome goal, which consisted of selling a certain amount of cell-phones in a day. I received a fixed salary regardless if I reached the goal or not. A situational constraint of having few customers made me incapable of reaching the goal. In addition, I had little knowledge of the products I was supposed to sell, as I had only been working for a few weeks. I experienced lack of motivation and commitment to the goal I had been given. According to Latham (2007, p. 176) goal setting without adequate knowledge is useless (i.e., unless the individual know how to attain a goal, there will be no commitment). When learning rather than motivation is required to master a task, setting an outcome goal can have a detrimental effect on performance and a decrease in self-efficacy (Latham & Locke, 2007, p. 293). People with low self-efficacy are unlikely to commit to a high goal (Latham & Locke 2007, p. 291). I had low self-efficacy and no commitment due to the lack of ability and knowledge to perform the goal I was given. This is consistent with the theory where Woofford, Goodwin, and Premack (1992, p. 595) state that when commitment is lacking, goals have little or no effect on behavior. The goal I was given was unrealistic, therefore I ignored there even was a goal. Goals that are perceived as difficult are less likely to be accepted than easy goals (Latham & Locke, 1990, p. 259). As learning was required to master the task, it is consistent with the theory that the given outcome goal had detrimental effect on my performance (i.e., Seiits & Latham 2001, p. 292). Latham (2007, p. 92) states that high dissatisfaction occurs when rewards are perceived as unfair. I got de-motivated and felt no commitment to the organization as there was no reward or high-valence outcome if the goal was achieved. Moreover, I was not committed to the goal I was given, hence feedback became irrelevant and ineffective, and this is where it breached the theory (i.e., Matsui, Okada, & Inoshita 1983, p.410). Recommendation:
First of all, due to the lack of ability and knowledge to perform the given goal, a specific difficult learning goal should have been set rather than an outcome goal. A specific outcome goal should be set only when people have the required knowledge or ability (Latham, 2007, p. 88). By ensuring adequate training, strategy development or task instructions, the employees would have the accurate knowledge and ability to perform the given task; self-efficacy might increase, which in turn enhances goal commitment and performance (Bandura & Locke, 2003, p. 94). Second, an alternative for managers to assigning an appropriate goal is to allow employees to participate in setting them (Latham & Locke, 2002, p. 707). Generally, employees will set goals based on previous performance and current knowledge, which usually lead to a higher self-efficacy and better performance (Latham & Locke, 1990, p 109). Also, people with high self-efficacy will typically set higher goals upon attainment than those with low self-efficacy (Latham & Locke 2007, p. 291).
Third, a reward such as monetary incentives may be used to enhance goal commitment. Employee satisfaction will derive, in part, from giving employees personally meaningful work that they are capable of handling and, in part, reward good performance (Locke and Latham 1990, 267). Other rewards such as gift cards, competition of being “employee of the month” and flexible working hours is examples, which could enhance goal commitment. Fourth, the manager should take social constraints into consideration prior to the goal setting. Here, as few customers visited the store, it was literally impossible to sell enough products to reach the given goal. The goal should be achievable for the reason that employees will only commit to a goal if they have the ability and knowledge to attain them (Latham & Locke, 2002, p. 707). Fifth, the manager should try to convince the employee that attaining the goal is important, communicate an inspire vision and be supportive (Latham & Locke, 2002, p.707)
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