Effective Application of Goal-Setting Theory


Goal setting is a generally accepted system that is used by managers to motivate their staff within an organization. The practice is mostly done through synchronization or aligning people’s objectives with those of the organization. As emphasized in the management by objectives, goal setting assists the managers to effectively instill the corporate strategies and goals in the employees. The strategy, therefore, enables the employees to fully understand the organization’s goals and objectives and purpose to achieve them.

The idea is also aimed at ensuring that the employees are fully aware of what to do and also how their work benefits the overall growth and development of the organization. Moreover, the exercise enables the employees to clearly identify the tasks which must be accomplished and thus discriminate them from the ones that waste’s their valuable time. The overall benefit of the goal-setting practice is therefore to raise the employee’s productivity and potentials. This paper seeks to critically analyze the effective application of the goal-setting theory.

The evolution of the goal-setting theory

This theory as well as the motivation theory resulted from the work of Dr. Edwin Locke in the late 1960s, who was on the view that employees would be motivated if they have clear set goals and appropriate feedback; such guideline could not only re-energize their operations but it would also give them a sense of direction which would, in turn, improve their overall performance (Latham, 2007, p. 60).

In his research, Locke suggested that there is a close connection between people’s performances and goal setting. In addition, the employees should establish specific goals since that will enable them to have a clear focus on what to do and what not to do given that such specification always leads to improved performance. Later on, Dr. Gary Latham also did research on the impacts caused by goal setting at the workplace and did tend to emphasize or confirm the ideas of Locke. There is a strong motivational concept that is brought about by the goal-setting practice within any given organization. This is mainly because the organization should also chip in and encourage goal setting amongst its employees (Landy & Conte, 2006, p. 339).

The principles of goal setting

Managers should emphasize the clarity of the set goals. Clear and measurable goals assist people to have a sense of direction. The clarity also enables individuals to define the time frame within which to complete the set tasks. The employees also use objective knowledge facts to activate their actions towards meeting them. Since specific results will be expected from the task, the staff will use that’s as their source of motivation.

Conversely, when the goals are vague, the motivational value within them is lost or reduced. The vagueness, therefore, limits the motivational aspect of goals to the employees. A manager should therefore seek to ensure that staffs have clear and more specific goals since by so doing performance will be improved. Managers should also seek to subdivide their employees into smaller groups with more specific goals and objectives. This will not only help them to reduce job turnover but will also enable them to effectively meet the demands of the employees within the shortest time possible.

Managers should also ensure that the set goals posses challenge to the staff. The level of challenge should however commensurate with the potential and resource availability within an organization. It is true that people will tend to become motivated if they are able to significantly accomplish some of the set goals (Rauch, 2007, p. 2). The organization should also design proper rewarding mechanisms in order to encourage the employees to keep up with the good work. It is natural for people to get motivated whenever their determination and hard work is positively received in the organization.

The organization should therefore design an incentive strategy where the best performers are either rewarded using monetary or non-monetary incentives. Such incentive will boost the enthusiasm of the employees and assist them to improve their performance even in more difficult tasks. The managers should therefore try to strike a balance between simple and unrealistic goals. The balance should be arrived at by establishing challenging but realistic goals.

This should be done because; unrealistic goals may not be impressive to the general employees while simple goals may be viewed to lack importance to the organization. The unrealistic goals also de-motivate the employees since they will feel their efforts are not appreciated by the organization. Simple goals on the other hand deny the employees a chance to fully exploit their potentials in their duties; this is more feasible when managers assist in setting realistic goals.

The individuals and groups ought to understand and agree upon the established goals. Commitment is therefore an important principle as it encourages effectiveness. Managers should therefore make sure that they fully involve the employees in the goal-setting and decision-making process. Their full participation will enable them to establish goals that are in line with the previous and current organizational expectations. The move will also uplift the employee’s faith and belief in the set goals. It will also improve the manager’s credibility and consequently inspire the employees to fully commit themselves to realize such goals.

Managers should therefore seek to involve their employees in the goal-setting as it will boost their overall performance (Makin, Cooper & Cox, 1996, p. 141). Employees should also be encouraged to set their own goals as that will inspire them to work extra harder. In order to enhance comparability, managers should also inform their employees on how organizations elsewhere are performing. Such moves not only motivate the employees but also ensures consistency in the industry.

Feedback is also a vital principle in which effective goals should emphasize, more so because it assists the managers to provide opportunities, gain recognition and also adjust to the difficult goals. Feedback is mainly given by the employees to the relevant superior body on the real practicability of the set goals. However, managers should establish benchmark targets that will enable the employees to evaluate their performance personally. Regular time should also be set aside to provide formal feedback on the already set goals. Such analysis not only assists managers to evaluate the individual and group progress but also ensures long-term performance improvement within a given organization.

It is also quite important to evaluate the task complexity when establishing goals in a given organization. For instance, proper measures should be put in place to regulate people who work in more complex and demanding fields. This is because failure to put such measures can lead the employees into establishing overwhelming tasks and responsibilities. In some scenarios, this may result in huge losses as the employees fail to meet the set goals, thus they need reasonable time that will be enough to ensure that they meet their goals and in the process perform adequately (O’Neil & Drillings, 1994, p. 13).

Enough time should also be accorded in order to ensure that persons are able to learn what is expected of them, however, should depend on the task complexity. Since the overall task of goal setting is to facilitate efficiency and success within the organization, managers should synchronize it with a perfect motivational strategy that encourages people in the workplace.


Motivation is the individual participation and commitment in the attainment of prescribed results. Managers in various organizations tend to use motivation and goal-setting practices in ensuring overall success. There are different motivational theories that organizations can choose to adopt. But all are aimed at improving the overall performance and productivity within the organization. There are various theories that are used by different organizations to boost productivity within their firms (Robbins, 2001, p. 177).

Maslow’s theory

This theory was invented by a behavioral scientist named Abraham Maslow. The theory is also known as the hierarchy of needs theory. According to him, individuals’ needs are usually the driving force that motivates them. Maslow categorized personal needs into five levels. The first level is the psychological needs which comprise of the basic salaries and wages which enable individuals to acquire the essentials of life such as food, housing, clothing, health and education (Sumiltal, 2004, p. 3).

At the safety level, people are much concerned with job security and other benefits which go together with employment. The social needs formulate the third level of Maslow’s need. At this level, an employee will have fully attained the psychological and safety needs within the employment contract. The social needs level, therefore, encourages the formulation of teams and groups within the organization to boost up the productivity level. It also aims at developing relationships within the organization.

After successfully realizing the social needs people seek to acquire the esteem needs. The esteem needs, therefore, form the fourth level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory. This is where goal setting comes in. managers will at this point try encouraging employees to synchronize their goals with those of the organization. They will also seek to encourage positive feedback which assumes all the relevant opportunities which can enable the organization to advance to a higher level. The fifth level is the self-actualization needs, which also encourages goal setting as it involves the creation of challenging tasks which consequently motivates and inspires employees to work hard.

At this level, the employees are encouraged to set up more challenging goals in order to ensure their commitment to the organization (Ali, 2005, p. 2). Other organizations may opt to interpret Maslow’s theory using the ERG theory. In the ERG theory, Maslow’s hierarchy needs are re-categorized into three. The existence needs to address the basic concerns, the relatedness needs which encourages social networking between people and the growth needs which incorporate the esteem and self-actualization concerns (Arnolds & Christol, 2002, p. 2).

Both Maslow’s and the ERG theories, therefore, assist us to understand the individual motivational strategies. It also assists managers to understand the needs of the differentiated workers within the firm. It also helps the managers to understand the kind of rewards that they should give out to their employees. This is because not all incentives will be appreciated by the employees as the needs are differently spread out.

The four-drive theory

Based on the humanistic approach, this Paul Lawrence and Nitin Nohria’s theory views individuals in an organization as being driven by four major forces; they include to acquire, to bond, to learn and to defend, all of which have different aspects. The drive to acquire is more psychological in nature whereby an individual is never satiated by the position they are in, thus they will always seek to attain a higher rank. The drive is also known for its effort towards fueling some internal competition within the organization. The drive to bond is the second force that encourages people to formulate relationships within the organization.

It, therefore, enables people to formulate and develop mutual commitments aimed at assisting one another in a firm. It also enables employees to fully develop their personal image and social identity within the organization (Wouter, 2007, p. 8).

Generally, the drive to bond encourages cooperation and mutual coexistence within the firm. The third the drive, to learn, focuses on the need to adventure or understand the environment and is mainly undertaken by regular training within the firm. The employees, therefore, acquire new knowledge which they then gear towards implementing in their actual task performance. This drive, therefore, aims at either improving the standards or the overall performance in an organization. It can also be done by encouraging employees to set up realistic and challenging goals which will eventually motivate them to work smarter and harder (Gorman, 2004, p. 70).

The drive to learn assists the employees to attain and fulfill the needs of personal actualization and growth. The fourth and final one is the drive to defend. This is where people seek to defend and protect whatever they physically or socially have within the organization and the society. It mainly encourages the defending of the existing relationships and also the acquisition of new social beliefs systems and status. This drive is however different from the other three since it uses a reactive mechanism instead of the proactive method used by the other three. The reactive mechanism emphasized by the drive to defend may trigger threats between employees (Magdalena, 2006, p. 2).


Goal setting is a vital practice in any given organization. It not only assists the employees to actively participate in the organization’s decision-making process, but it also motivates them to produce even more. In order to effectively achieve this objective, the set goals must have clarity, pose an adequate challenge and fully commit the employees. Moreover, the set goals should address the complexity of the task and also have a well-planned feedback mechanism. Proper incentive and motivation mechanisms should also be established in order to address the individual and groups needs as depicted in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, ERG and in the four-drive theories. Such motivational strategies will assist the employees to synchronize the organization’s needs with theirs and thus have unified objectives.


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