Prominent Contributor and Time Period. Edwin A. Locke (1968) published the classic "Toward a Theory of Task Motivation and Incentives" in Organizational Behavior and Human Performance. Since the late sixties, considerable attention has been given to applying goal setting theory in industry and management situations. Locke, along with other contributors such as Latham, performed laboratory and field experiments; most publicized was the field studies in the 1970s with the logging industry. During the past decade, Locke's emphasis has been in the area of applied goal setting theory with regard to improved performance in complex business tasks. In 1992, Locke and others studied the relationship between goal setting and expectancy theory. Studies over the past 26 years were performed to improve performance using goal setting as a motivational technique.
Concepts. Goals are the aim of an action or behavior. Goals can be set for any verifiable or measurable outcome. Locke's basic assumption is that goals are immediate regulators of human action. An individual synthesizes direction, effort, and persistence to accomplish goals. To maximize goal setting, specific and challenging goals are set to focus action and effort over time to accomplish tasks. From 1968 to 1980, 90% of the studies showed that specific, well defined, and challenging goals led to greater improved performance than vague and easy goals. Individuals must commit to set goals to produce results; the more difficult (challenging yet reasonable) the goal, the better the individual will perform. Individuals need management support (feedback, reward mechanisms, and required resources [time, training, and material goods]) to maximize performance when applying goal setting.
Applying Goal Setting. Locke (1984) suggests seven steps to follow to optimize goal setting:
Specify objectives or tasks to be done. 2. Specify how performance will be measured.
Specify the standard to be reached. 4. Specify the time frame involved.
Prioritize goals. 6. Rate goals as to difficulty and importance.
Determine the coordination requirements.
Managers must ensure set goals do not conflict with each other or conflict with organizational goals. For groups, every group member should have verifiable specific goals, as well as, an over all group goal to counter social loafing. Smaller groups (3-8) are more effective than larger ones.
Potential Dangers. Excessive risk taking, excessive competition, goal failure can deter confidence, and create unwanted stress.
Integration of Other Motivational Theories. Although goal setting is a principle attribute of many motivational and performance theories, recent research focuses on Locus of Control influences and Expectancy Theory relationships.
Locus of Control - internalizers tend to have better performance than externalizers (Locke, Shaw, Saari & Latham 1981).
Expectancy Theory - goal setting is negatively related to valence (setting low goals did not satisfy individuals as well as high level goals) and instrumentality is positively related to goal setting (difficult goals gives the individual a greater sense of achievement, self-efficacy, and skill improvement than easy goals) (Mento, Locke & Klein 1992).
Works Cited and Reference List
Ivancevich, J. M. & Matteson, M.T. (1993), Organizational Behavior and Management. Burr Ridge, IL: Richard D. Irwin, Inc.
Latham, G. P., & Locke, E.A. (1979), "Goal-setting: A motivational technique that works", Organizational Dynamics, 8(2): 68-80.
Locke, E. A. (1968), "Toward a theory of task motivation and incentives", Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, May: 157 - 189.
Locke, E. A., Shaw, K. N., Saari, L. M., & Latham, G. P. (1981), "Goal setting and task performance: 1969 - 1980", Psychological Bulletin, 90(1), 125 - 152.
Locke, E. A. & Latham, G. P. (1984), Goal Setting, A Motivational Technique That Works!. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc.
Locke, E. A. (1986), Generalizing From Laboratory to Field Settings. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.
Locke, E. A., Gist, M. E., & Taylor, M. S. (1987), "Organizational behavior: group structure, process, and effectiveness", Journal of Management. 13(2), 237 - 257.
Locke, E. A. & Chesney, A. A. (1991), "Relationships among goal difficulty, business strategies, and performance on a complex management simulation task", The Academy of Management Journal, 34(2), 400 - 424.
Mento, A. J., Locke, E. A. & Klein, H. J. (1992), "Relationship of goal level to valence and instrumentality", Journal of Applied Psychology, 77(4), August, 395 - 405.