Goal-Setting Theory of Motivation

The goal-setting theory of motivation was first proposed in the late 1970s by Latham and Locke (1979). The theory proposes that individuals will be motivated to the extent that they accept specific, challenging goals and receive feedback that indicates their progress toward goal achievement. Their goal-setting theory is fully consistent with social cognitive theory in that both acknowledge the importance of conscious goals and self-efficacy. The goal-setting theory focuses primarily on motivation in work settings. The core components of goal-setting theory include the following:

  • Goal specificity the extent to which goals are detailed, exact, and unambiguous.
  • Goal difficulty the extent to which a goal is hard or challenging to accomplish.
  • Goal acceptance the extent to which people consciously understand and agree to goals.

The theory includes four mechanisms that directly affect performance:

  • 1. Goals serve a directive function where they direct attention and effort toward goal-relevant activities and away from goal-irrelevant activities.
  • 2. Goals have an energizing function such that high goals lead to greater effort than low goals.
  • 3. Goals affect persistence when participants are allowed to control the time they spend on a task, hard goals prolong effort.
  • 4. Goals affect action indirectly by leading to the arousal, discovery, or use of task-relevant knowledge and strategies.

The theory states that goal moderators are factors that facilitate goal effects and include the following: (1) Commitment, whereby public recognition of the goal is enhanced by leaders communicating an inspiring vision and behaving supportively; (2) Importance, where leadership commits resources based upon the goals relative importance; (3) Self-efficacy or the extent or strength of leadership’s belief in its ability to complete tasks and reach goals by providing adequate training, positive role models, and persuasive communication; (4) Feedback, as an element stating that “for goals to be effective, people need summary feedback that reveals progress in relation to their goals” (Locke & Latham, 2002, p. 708); and (5) Task complexity, as the complexity of tasks increases and higher-level skills and strategies are required, goal effects are dependent on the ability to provide proper resources and strategies for accomplishment.

Figure 8.3 depicts the integration of the essential elements of goal-setting theory.

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