Goal Setting Theory of Motivation

The Goal Setting Theory was developed by Edwin Locke in 1968, in order to explain human actions in specific work situations. The theory argues that goals and intentions are cognitive and willful, and that they serve as mediators of human actions and that our needs and our goals are mediated by our values, which determine what is beneficial for us.

The two most important findings of this theory are that setting specific goals (e.g. I want to earn 500 more a month) generates higher levels of performance than setting general goals ( e.g. I want to earn more money), and that goals that are hard to achieve are linearly and positively connected to performance. The harder the goal, the more a person will work to reach it. However, such influences on performance are mediated by two conditions- Feedback, and that the person in question accepts the goal. A goal is described as reaching a great certain level of efficiency in a certain area, usually under a time limit. Goals have two characteristics- the goal’s content, and the goal’s intensity. The content refers to what we actually want to achieve (e.g. I want to earn 500 more a month). The intensity refers to the amount of physical and mental resources needed to create and achieve the content. The original model proposed by Locke consisted of 5 steps: Environmental Stimuli → Cognition → Evaluation → Intentions\ Goal Setting → Performance.

The important features of goal-setting theory are as follows:

The willingness to work towards attainment of goal is main source of job motivation. Clear, particular and difficult goals are greater motivating factors than easy, general and vague goals.
Specific and clear goals lead to greater output and better performance. Unambiguous, measurable and clear goals accompanied by a deadline for completion avoids misunderstanding.
Goals should be realistic and challenging. This gives an individual a feeling of pride and triumph when he attains them, and sets him up for attainment of next goal. The more challenging the goal, the greater is the reward generally and the more is the passion for achieving it.
Better and appropriate feedback of results directs the employee behaviour and contributes to higher performance than absence of feedback. Feedback is a means of gaining reputation, making clarifications and regulating goal difficulties. It helps employees to work with more involvement and leads to greater job satisfaction.
Employees’ participation in goal is not always desirable.
Participation of setting goal, however, makes goal more acceptable and leads to more involvement.
Goal setting theory has certain eventualities such as:

  1. Self-efficiency- Self-efficiency is the individual’s self-confidence and faith that he has potential of performing the task. Higher the level of self-efficiency, greater will be the efforts put in by the individual when they face challenging tasks. While, lower the level of self-efficiency, less will be the efforts put in by the individual or he might even quit while meeting challenges.
  2. Goal commitment- Goal setting theory assumes that the individual is committed to the goal and will not leave the goal. The goal commitment is dependent on the following factors:
    1. Goals are made open, known and broadcasted.
    2. Goals should be set-self by individual rather than designated.
    3. Individual’s set goals should be consistent with the organizational goals and vision.



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