Explore the Goal-setting Theory and Improve Your Task Performance

Goal-setting Theory
Goal-setting theory of motivation is a theory which states that there is an inseparable link between goal setting and task performance. It states that specific, measurable and attainable goals motivate an employee to achieve the goal, while lousy and vague targets suck out all enthusiasm.
Goal-setting theory is nothing but a motivational theory. It involves setting specific goals that in turn improve work performance, by increasing employee motivation. For example, if an employee knows his performance will be judged based on achievement of a target, he will work harder to achieve it. Setting specific, achievable goals helps yield better results, because the employee knows what the employer expects of him.

What is the Goal-setting Theory?

The 1960s article published by Dr. Edwin Locke's on "Toward a Theory of Task Motivation and Incentives", stated that clear goals and appropriate feedback motivates employees. He also went on to say that when employees worked towards a goal, it spearheaded a major source of motivation within the employees to actually reach the goal. As a result, the final performance of the employee improves. Locke's study also threw light on the relationship between goals and performance. According to his study, specific, challenging and achievable goals conduced to better results and performance as compared to vague, randomly set or easy to do goals.

After a few years, another researcher, Dr Gary Latham also started conducting research in the same field and in 1990, both Locke and Latham published their combined work in a book, which reinforced the need to specify goals correctly in order to achieve better results. In simple terms, what they were trying to say in the book is that if you tell yourself, 'I want to lose 50lbs of fat by New Years', you have greater chances of losing significant amount of fat rather than what you would have done if your goal was 'I will try to lose as much of fat as I can by New Years'. Goal-setting theory in business also runs on the same lines. There is an invisible cord connecting goal setting and workplace performance. Managers provide their employees with achievable, specific and clear targets to motivate employees to shell out their best performance.

Principles of Goal-setting

To prepare a delicious meal, you need to put in the right ingredients. This is not rocket science, we all know this! In the same way, while setting the right goals, there certain factors have to be taken into consideration.

Vague, unambiguous goal spun in thin air will only build a house on the sand. Such random goals leaves lots of room for misconceptions and will never give desired results. When the manager says, 'Do how much you can', the employee gets a vague idea of what is expected of him and does not strive to perform better. The result is at the time of evaluation, there is a lot of confusion. The manager is not happy with the employees low performance, while the employee cannot understand why the manager is pouting. Crisp, clear, measurable, specific goals have to be set and communicated to the employee in the simplest way possible. No room for assumptions in goal setting.

Besides being clear and specific, the goal set should be challenging. Easy to achieve goals fail to keep the employee excited, however, since people are often motivated by the feeling of achievement, setting challenging goals helps motivate the employee to do his best. Another factor that has to be noted here is the fact of recognition. When an employee knows his efforts will not go unnoticed, he will want to stretch himself. Word of mouth appreciation, financial or any other kind of remunerations will help motivate the employee to reach his goal. As the intensity of rewards increase with the difficulty of the task, employees are willing to take up more challenging tasks to achieve that high compensation. However, failure to recognize sincere efforts demotivates the employee and yields negative results.

We just saw how important it is for an employee to know what his manager expects out of him to perform better. However, if the goal set by the manager is something really steep, it will do more damage instead of good. Blowing a balloon to its fullest capacity brings about beauty, however, blowing a little more bursts the balloon. There is only a hairline difference between the fullest capacity and the amount that can burst it. Same is the case with an employee. Easy goals don't seem to challenge an employee, however, in the eagerness to set challenging goals, if the goal is tad on the unattainable side, the employee can get demotivated, instead of motivated. The idea is to challenge the employee to give his best performance without frustrating him.

If goals are to see fruition, they need to be comprehended and agreed upon by both the management and the employees. The theory of participative management rests on the basis of allowing employees to have a role in setting goals and making decisions. If employees feel they were part of creating the goal, they are more likely to try their level best to achieve the goal. Simply barging into the meeting room and dictating the set of goals the employee has to attain, without considering whether he can or cannot attain it, will only lead to frustration and suffocation at work. This is why most of the voluntary resignations at workplaces come about.

This does not imply that goals are to be negotiated with and approved by employees? No, absolutely not! We cannot afford to swing to either side of the pendulum. What this simply means is that goals set have to be in line with the goals of the organization and at the same time take into consideration the abilities of the employees. A balance has to be attained. Setting goals by involving employees will increase the employees level of commitment to the job.

Often managers stop at setting goals and communicating them, all the while forgetting that feedback is a very necessary step. For any goal setting program to be effective it has to include feedback. Feedback is the tool which helps clear issues between management and employees regarding goal complexity, expectations clarifications, rewards, etc. Informal as well as formal feedback sessions help get rid of minor splinters that can hamper the process of achieving the vision. If certain steps taken were unnecessary, it has to be communicated. This will help improve performance.

These are the five factors that form the essential ingredients of the mission, to attain the vision. These factors need to be taken into consideration in equal proportion to avoid having the goals tip off balance. Good ingredients, in adequate amounts (not more, not less!) help make a wonderful meal! This is the simple way of putting goal-setting theory of motivation!