Motivation and emotion/Book/2010/Motivation and goal setting

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Motivation and goal setting

Overview[edit | edit source]

Goals can be universal.
Jessica Watson's personal goal. Goals can be external

In a world driven by outcomes, successful goal setting permeates all levels of society. In fact goal setting theory is generally accepted as among the most valid and useful motivation theories in industrial and organizational psychology, human resource management and organizational behaviour.

The study of motivation has always been considered by psychologists to be difficult, especially because motivation is something inside the organism (Locke, 1996). Initially, motivation was thought to be driven by external sources cultivated through reinforcement or rewards (Skinner, 1953). However, more recent research has questioned this theory and has instead looked towards more self-directed and intrinsic motivators (Ryan, & Deci, 2000). Motivation plays an important role in helping us reach our goals (Latham, 2005) and in turn, goal setting is a powerful way of motivating people and ourselves.

This has been supported by theory that suggests (Latham, & Locke, 2007) that working towards a goal provided a major source of motivation to actually reach the goal which in turn improved performance.

This chapter begins by outlining a brief history of goal setting followed by a discussion of two major theories of goal setting; (a) Goal Setting Theory (Locke, & Latham 1990) and (b) Social Cognitive Theory (Bandura, (1977). Pertinent research relevant to these theories will be analysed and discussed. In addition, this chapter will outline some of the major moderators of goal setting and present an applied example of goal setting with a case study.

Goal Setting Theory a brief history:[edit | edit source]

As early as the 1900’s thinking was emerging regarding goal setting. Two strands of influence materialized, one connecting the theory to the academic world and the other to the world of business. The academic strand began with the Wurzburg school in Germany with Klupe, Watt and Ach theorists of this time (Locke, & Latham 1990). This school used the term task and determining tendency to describe the fact that a task assigned earlier could affect later action without the individual being consciously aware of the task at the time of action. Ach (1935) formulated the “Difficulty law of motivation” which was a precursor to ‘Goal difficulty function ”. This was significant for Goal Setting Theory in establishing a linear relationship between goal difficulty and performance.

Lewin (1936), a Gestalt psychologist introduced the specific term “intention” to the field. Lewin assumed that intention was associated with a state of tension that was maintained until it was reduced by the performance or completion of an intended activity, or a substitute activity. Lewins’ study on group decision making also influenced goal setting theory. Mace ( 1935) also contributed to goal setting theory with studies that looked at comparisons of the effect of specific challenging goals with goals such as “do your best”, to compare the effects of goals differing in level of difficulty. Mace’s study was certainly an important impetus to goal setting theory. He conducted a series of laboratory experiments where he showed that setting a standard for task outcome affected a person’s performance. However, this was only the case when the person’s ability had developed to the point where they believed they would succeed at the task. The first known study to statistically show a relationship between goals and subsequent performance was that by Bayton (1943).

It also must be remembered that the field of psychology was dominated by the behaviourists and motivation lie outside the person in the form of reinforcers and punishers (Skinners Reinforcement Theory 1953). Also those internal mechanisms were acknowledged as in drive reduction theory as being primarily physiological (Hull, 1952). The cognitive revolution in psychology, and the early work of Ryan (1970) also had a direct influence on goal setting theory. Ryan’s approach was to simply ask people what they were trying to accomplish when they took action. Ryan (1943) argued that human behaviour is affected by conscious purposes, plans, intentions, and tasks. He called these first-level explanatory concepts citing them as the immediate motivational causes of most human action (Locke & Latham, 2002). Goal setting theory was formulated largely on the basis of empirical research conducted over nearly four decades with the two contempory contributors to theory and research on goal setting being Edwin Locke and Gary Latham.

Definition of Goal Setting.[edit | edit source]

Definition of goal setting. A goal is the object or aim of an action, for example to attain a specific standard of proficiency, usually with a specified time limit(Fried & Slowik, 2004). A goal is whatever an individual is striving to accomplish (Locke, 1996). When people aim to do something they engage in goal directed behaviour. Locke (1996) theorised that goals have both an internal and an external aspect and motivation was either internally or externally driven. Internally motivation refers to ideas (desired ends), where as external motivation refers to the object or condition sought (a job, a sale, a certain performance level). The idea guides action to attain the object. Qualitatively the content of a goal is whatever the person is seeking. Quantitatively two attributes of content, namely difficulty and specificity, have been studied. The aim is to focus on a particular difficult and specific goal and achieve this goal day after day. In addition to specific and difficult goal, feedback and goal acceptance are also contributing factors in assisting an individual towards goal fulfullment. Cognitive sources of motivation therefore revolve around a person’s way of thinking and believing. It units together mental constructs such as beliefs, expectations, goals, plans, judgements, values, and self-concept under one banner of mental events that function as causal determinants of goal holder People who set goals or have goals set for them generally outperform those without goals (Loche,1996) Goal setting generally enhances performance, but the type of goal one sets often determines the extent to which a goal translates into performance gains, as goals vary in how difficult they are and in how specific they are. The idea of specificity and difficulty is central to Goal Theory (Locke, 1996).

Theories of Goal Setting.[edit | edit source]

Several theories have been proposed to explain goal setting. Both Goal Setting Theory and Social Cognitive Theory have dominated the literature in recent years (Locke & Latham, 2006, Bandura, 1997) and will be the focus of this chapter.

Goal Setting Theory. Locke & Latham (1990)[edit | edit source]

Why is it that some individuals do better on a task when ability and knowledge have been controlled for? Locke and Latham (1990) proposed that it was impossible to answer this question without considering motivation. Motivation is the core premise of Goal Setting Theory. Lock and Latham identified that the simplest and most direct motivational explanation of why some people perform better on work tasks than others is because they have different performance goals, which may possess different attributes. According to Goal Setting Theory goal specificity and difficulty are the two primary goal attributes that influence goal-related performance.

Specificity[edit | edit source]

  • The specificity of the goal refers to the how clearly the goal informs the person on precisely what he is to do. This means taking a vague goal of "do your assignment when you have time too” to a specific goal, “have your plan ready by Thursday”. It is important to be specific when *setting goals as it instructs the person on what needs to be done, reducing ambiguity in thought and variability of performance (Klien, Whitener, & Llgen 1990). The more specific or explicit the goal, the more precisely performance can be regulated. However, Iit must be remembered that specificity is not always desirable, for example in creative innovative situations, where new ideas and processes are desirable (Loche, 1996).
  • A longitudinal study by Gyurcsik, Estabrooks & Frahm-Templar (2003) on health performance provides support for the importance of specificity in goal setting. In this study it was found that when setting health related goals, specific goals and feedback led to increases in the desired health-related behaviour (e.g. increased physical activity).

Difficult[edit | edit source]

  • The second important goal attribute proposed by Locke and Latham (1996) was goal difficulty. In terms of goal setting, the goal difficulty is how hard the goal is to achieve. The more difficult the goal, the more energy the person will put into the goal. The energy is proportionate to the level of the task (Locke & Latham, 1990). To achieve easier goals it smaller amounts of effort are required and it can be said that effort responds to the magnitude of the goal performance discrepancy.
  • Atkinson (1958) outlined the inverted U theory, where he plotted an inverse U function to goal difficulty verses outcome. In this theory he proposed that an inverse relationship existed between the probability of success and level of performance. An optimal level of goal difficulty, which was neither too easy nor too hard for the individual, produced optimal performance.
  • Locke & Latham (1990) were unable to replicate these findings, instead coming up with a linear function, resulting in that if the individual is committed to the goal and possesses the requisite ability and knowledge to achieve it, a more difficult goal will produce better performance. However, they did identify that without commitment and adequate ability, performance does drop at high difficulty goal levels.

In summary, Goal Setting Theory proposes that goals that are both specific and difficult lead to the highest performance. Many studies that have compared the effect of specific and difficult goals with goals such as “do your best” (Scobbie, Wyke, & Dixon 2009). Repeatedly it has been found that people do not actually ‘do their best’ because the goal is vague and is compatible with many outcomes, including doing lower than one’s best (Hurn, Kneebone, &Cropley 2006).

Social Cognitive Theory (Bandura, 1989).[edit | edit source]

In 1941 Miller and Dollard proposed the theory of Social Learning. This theory was broadened in 1963 by Bandura and Walters with the principles of observational learning and external reinforcement. Social Cognitive Theory (SCT) explains how people acquire and maintain certain behavioural patterns. The theory can also be used for providing an explanation of various intervention strategies such as goal setting. Central to Social Cognitive Theory is the role of self efficacy.

Self efficacy can be defined as how confident an individual is in their ability to achieve a desired goal in the presence of perceived barriers or facilitators (Bandura, 1997). The capacity to exercise control over one’s thought processes, motivation, and action is a distinctively human characteristic. Self efficacy plays an important role in goal setting and related outcomes as it requires a strong sense of efficacy to remain task oriented in the face of judgemental failures. Bundara (1989) said that “people who strongly believe in their problem solving capabilities remain highly efficient in their analytic thinking in complex decision situations and those who have self doubt are erratic in their analytic thinking and this affects performance accomplishments”. P1175 People’s perceptions and self efficacy beliefs usually affect cognitive functioning through the joint influence of motivational information processing operations. Peoples self efficacy beliefs determine their level of motivation as reflected in how much effort they will exert in an endeavour and how long they will persevere in the face of obstacles. Bandura (1989) maintained that in order for people to succeed they must have a personal sense of efficacy to sustain the perseverant effort needed to succeed, and be able to sustain effort in the face of difficulties. He further argued that failure to meet a goal may be partly explained by an individuals loss of faith in their capabilities. Bandura (1989) asserts that the power of self efficacy beliefs can affect the course of a life path through the selection process. He expressed that the more efficacious people judge themselves to be the wider range of career options they consider appropriate and the better they prepare themselves educationally. Conversely, self limitation of career development arises more from perceived self inefficacy than from actual inability. Development of resilient self efficacy requires some experience in mastering difficulties through perseverant effort. When things are too easy people get quick successes and they come to expect them, however, their self efficacy is easily undermined by failure. If a person thinks they have what it takes to persevere when the task is difficult, they will sticking it out through hard times and emerge with a stronger sense of self efficacy. This notion ties in with Locke and Latham’s (1990) goal attribute of difficulty level.

Bandura (1989) has shown that self efficacy can be raised by enactive mastery, persuasion and role modelling. Self-efficacy beliefs operate together with a person’s outcome expectancies or what they believe the outcome of performing a particular goal will be. Self-efficacy is theorized to exert its influence on health outcomes by improving motivation to set and pursue goals and to increase resilience in the face of setbacks during goal pursuit (Schwarzer, Ziegelmann, Luszczynska, Scholz, & Lippke 2008).

The concept of self-efficacy is important to goal setting theory in several ways. When goals are self-set people with high self-efficacy set higher goals than do people with low self-efficacy. They are also more committed to assigned goals , find and use better task strategies to attain the goals and respond more positively to negative feedback than do people with low-efficacy. Other benefits of high self-esteem are that people have fewer sleepless nights, succumb less easily to pressures to conform, are more persistent at difficult tasks, are less shy and lonely, and are just plain happier (Watson, Suls & Haig 2002). When considering work place or education productivity and outcomes, these are all favourable gains. Bandura stated that after people attain their goal they generally set a higher goal for themselves This adoption of higher goals creates rather than reduces motivation discrepancies to be mastered.

How goal setting and self efficacy complement each other[edit | edit source]

Bandura’s (1986) social cognitive theory is highly compatible with goal setting theory. It not only includes goal setting as part of its content but adds two important dimensions to goal theory. The first is that modeling has significant effects on goal choice and goal commitment. The second dimension is self efficacy.

Self-efficacy has a direct effect on performance, it also influences the difficulty level of the goal chosen or accepted. Self-efficacy influences the commitment to goals, choice of task strategies and the response to negative feedback or failure. For example, when a person receives negative feedback they can doubt their ability and be unhappy. However if the individual can sustain their self-efficacy under pressure they are more likely to maintain or raise their goals, retain their commitment and increase their search for better strategies and improve their performance. Those that lose confidence tend to lower their goals, decrease their efforts, lessen intensity and use fewer strategies to assist (Bandura, 1986).

Goal Moderators[edit | edit source]

Commitment[edit | edit source]

In goal setting, commitment describes the degree to which a person is genuinely attached to and determined to reach their goals. When goals are specific and hard, higher committed individuals report better performance (Locke & Latham 2006). Commitment has been shown to increase when the individual is convinced that the goal is important, attainable or that at least progress can be made towards achieving the goal. Goal commitment and difficulty often work together. The harder the goal the more commitment required. If the goal is easy you don’t need a lot of motivation to get it done. When your working on a difficult task it is likely you will encounter challenges that require a deeper source of inspiration and incentive. In the company work situation encourage the employee to assist in their goal setting process, and keep them informed to ensure that their goals are consistent with the vision of the company.

Incentives and Reward[edit | edit source]

Monetary incentives have been found to improve performance, with larger incentives resulting in greater performance improvement, but not in all situations (Loche & Latham 2002, Lewin,1958). More recent literature on goal setting suggests that external rewards are not necessary to improve performance (Loche & Latham, 2001). Because goal setting improves performance in the absence of additional rewards, in some instances incentives may be detrimental to performance. Ownership and Acceptance Through active participation in the goal setting process, a person feels ownership toward their goals, which enhances participation and commitment. Previous research supports the idea of ownership and highlights the importance of the nature and manner in which goals are set to achieving desired outcomes (Latham, Erez, & Loche, 1988). In some situations, goals may be assigned rather than self set. In addition to ownership, goal acceptance is particularly relevant when another person is setting a goal for an individual, (e.g. a training coach). The person must either accept or reject the goal. Erez and Zidon (1984) reported that internalised, accepted goals improved performance for the reasoning that goal acceptance determines goal commitment. The acceptance or rejection of the externally imposed goal also depends on the difficulty, the individual’s participation in the process, the credibility of the persons setting the goal and if there are any extrinsic incentives (Latham & Yukl 1975, Turner, Barling, & Zacharotao 2002. Locke & Latham 1990).

Feedback[edit | edit source]

Another critical determinant of goal effects is the provision of feedback with respect to goal attainment. Feedback allows the person to check the status of their performance in relation to their goal. This then allows for adjustments in behaviour in terms of effort, direction, or strategy if needed. Thus, providing goals, plus feedback has been found to be much more effective than goals alone (Bandura & Cervone, 1983).

Task Complexity[edit | edit source]

Another moderator of goal effects is task complexity. The task complexity interacts with goals in a variety of ways. When confronted with task related goals people will use their already acquired skills and knowledge to accomplish their goal. When the situation is new they will draw upon skills that they have used before in a similar contextLearning and performance goals are distinguished from each other by Locke and Latham (2002).

Preformance facilitor[edit | edit source]

Mediators of goal performance include direction, effort, persistence, task specific strategies. Goals affect performance by affecting the direction of action, the degree of effort exerted and the persistence of action over time. The effort required to obtain a goal is proportional to the judged difficulty of the goal. Persistence is the directed effort extended over time. Harder gaols take more persistence than easy goals. In reaching goals it is recognised that planning is required to reach goals. When people are given training in a new strategy they don’t always use it unless it is to attain a goal that cannot otherwise be attained

New directions Goal conflict[edit | edit source]

When things do not work is when the organizations goal and the goal of the individual manager are in conflict. For example if as a manager I am being paid for the performance or output of my staff and neglecting other company matters like occupational health and safety. Goal conflict undermined performance if it motivates incompatible action tendencies. The same can be said when individual goals do not align with the group goals it has a detrimental effect on group performance (Seijts and Latham 2000).

Short term Long term goal setting[edit | edit source]

Goals can be short or long-term or a combination of a series of short-term goals linked to one long-term- goal. Studies indicate that no significance difference in performance emerges among performers with short-term, long term, or any combination of both although all outperform people with no goals ( ). It is not performance that is affected by goal proximity but it affects persistence and intrinsic motivation. For example the longterm gaol of graduating in Psychology is a three, four or six year goal. With out constant feedback and positive reinforcements along the way it would be very easy to forfeit the long term goal. Short term gaols give the individual the change to evaluate their performance as being at above or below their goal. Long term goals are more complex and require greater cognitive structures. Whereas short term goal are often considered specific behaviour targets but both are connected. The achievement of a short-term goal increases the probability or attaining another short term goal.

Why people often have ineffective goal pursuit.=[edit | edit source]

Making a list each New Year is very common for many people, goals like I’m going to get more exercise, save money for a holiday or learn to use the computer more effectively. Often on reflection about mid year these goals have fallen be the wayside. Reasons may include: That out goals are structured very poorly, too many goals or goal may conflict with each other. The goals may be too ambiguous, too difficult, or are set too far in the future to serve as useful behaviour guides. The evidence indicates that challenging goals are the most likely to succeed, the proximal distance, and specificity are also important in success. This is more likely when people have strong self efficacy beliefs toward their goals (Bandura 2001).

Another reason for ineffective goal pursuit is that people often fail don’t identify why they want to pursue that particular goal. Often people set goals that don’t represent their interests and personal values and adopt them for external reasons such as social pressure or because it is and expectation of what they should do.( Sheldon & Kasser 1998). Goals that are not endorsed by the self are not likely to motivate the person to persist with the task long term Sheldon & Houser-Marko, 2001).

A third reason is that people often fail to develop a specific plan on how they will attain their goals. With this comes the failure to ensure their persistence when setbacks or obstacles that occur.

Summary[edit | edit source]

Case Study: Jean

Ursula Dubosarsky publicity photo 2.jpg

Case Study –Setting Goals-Jean

My name is Jean I am 47yrs old and suffer from anxiety and depression, my husband (Jim) of 26yrs is on dialysis and one of his kidneys has cancer. We have four children the youngest lives at home also suffering from depression with suicidal tendencies. Jean wants her life to be better but is unable to plan past the day. She was referred to the Richmond Fellowship from the Mental Health Centre and the initial work included connecting her family with essential services (financial planning, housing, community transport to get Jim to dialysis) enabling her then to set some goals for herself.

Jean’s Goal Setting with the Richmond Fellowship.[edit | edit source]

Stage One[edit | edit source]

  • This was Jean accessing the service, establishing a relationship with the recovery worker (myself). Collaboratively assessing Jean’s readiness for the program.
  • Identification strength, dialogue of expectations from the service and from her, gathering information, confirming structure of the service, development of proposed plan for active phase.
  • Assessing readiness for goal setting, choosing an area of life for change, discussing with Jean appropriate goal direction or referral for additional or alternative support. Jean was referred to other providers to assist the family with other needs, for example housing, financial planner, assistant workers for the son, health care plans, supported accommodation.

Stage two- Developing a Plan - setting a goal[edit | edit source]

  • Choosing an area of life- Jean expressed change in her daily living situation, relationship, and her aspirations, hopes and dreams. Her absolute dream was to recommit to her wedding vows with Jim and have the wedding that she had always wanted. Her first marriage had been in her aunt’s dress and very hurried.
  • Identifying Jean’s core values. Her family being the foremost and building strength within herself if Jim was to die.
  • Match the strengths and values to the possible choices.
  • Choosing the goals. To align the goal with her personal situation so as to make it realistic and achievable. Jeans in the past has many setbacks and no longer planned so as not to fail.
  • The support of significant others was assessed to ensure that positive and encouraging support would be given.
  • The Development of a clear specific statement of action. The goal plan was set in January 2010 with weekly small goals, and monthly goals. Alternative goals were in place if Jim’s health failed.
  • The date was set for the 6th November 2010.

Stage three[edit | edit source]

Jean had he plan mounted on her wall at home with her weekly tasks that she would tick off. She was given constant visual feedback and feedback from those around her. Over time her confidence grew, when she saw her dream dress she initiated employment for herself and was able to purchase it. Jeans life opportunities have broadened as well as her learning skills. Jean had many moments when she thought that she would have to call off the wedding which had been her response in the past when things were not going to plan. The building of her short term goals gave her the motivation to push through the uncertain and difficult periods. Jean and Jim were married on Saturday 6th November in front of family and friends, it was the wedding Jean had planned for and desired.

Question?[edit | edit source]

Would you get on a boat if you did not know where it was sailing too?

Five Principles of Goal Setting
  1. Clarity.
  2. Challenge
  3. Committment
  4. Feedback
  5. Task complexity

References[edit | edit source]

Bandura, A (1997). Self-efficacy-the exercise of control. WH: Freeman. Bandura, A. (1977). Social Learning Theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Bandura, A. (1987). Human agency in Social Cognitive Theory. American Psychologist 44(9), 1175-1184.

Bandura, A. & Cervone, D. (1986). Self-evaluative and self-efficacy mechanisms governing the motivational effects of goal systems. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 45, 1017-1028.

Erez, M. & Zidon, I. (1984). Effects of goal acceptance on the relationshop of goal setting and task performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 69, 69-78.

Fried, Y. & Slowik, L. H. (2004). Goal-setting theory with time: An integrated Approach. The Academy of Management review, 29(3), 404-422.

Hollenbeck, J.R. & Klien, H. J. (1987). Goal commitment and the goal setting process, problems, prospects, and proposals for future research. Journal of Applied Psychology, 72(2), 212-220.

Hollenbeck, J.R., Wesson, M.J., Klein, H.J. & Alge, B.J. (1999). Goal commitment and the goal setting process: Conceptual clarification an empirical synthesis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 84(6), 885-896.

Hollenbeck, J., Williams, C. & Klien, H. (1989). An empirical examination of the antecedents of commitment to difficult goals. Journal of Applied Psychology, 79, 184-190.

Hurn, J., Kneebone, I. & Cropley, M. (2006). Goal setting as an outcome measure: a systematic review. Clinical Rehabilitation, 20, 756-772.

Latham, G.P. (2005). Work Motivation Theory and research at the dawn of the twenty first century. Annual Review of Psychology, 56, 485-516.

Latham, G. P., Erez, M., & Locke, E.A. (1988). Resolving scientific disputes by the joint design of crucial experiments by the antagonists: Application to the Erez-Latham dispute regarding participation in goal setting. Journal of Applied Psychology, 73, 753-772

Lewin, K. (1958). Psychology of success and failure. Cleveland. America: Howard Allan.

Locke, E. A. & Latham, G. P. (1990). A theory of goal setting and task performance. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Locke, E. A. & Latham, G.P. (2002). Building a practically useful theory of goal setting and task Motivation: A 35-year odyssey. American Psychology, 57, 705-717.

Locke, E. A. & Latham, G. P. (2006). New directions in goal-setting theory. Association for Psychlogical Science, 15(5), 265-270.

Locke, E. A. & Latham, G. P.(2007). New developments in and directions for goal-setting research. European Psychologist, 12(4), 290-300.

Mace, C. A. (1935). Incentives: Some experimental studies. London: Industrial Health Research Board.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self Determination Theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development and well being. American Psychologist, 51(1), 68-78.

Schwarzer, R., Ziegelmann, J.P., Luszczynska, A., Scholz, S., & Lippke, S. (2008). Social cognitive predictors of physical exercise adherence: three longitudional studies in rehabilitation. Health Psychology, 28, 54-63.

Scobbie, L., Wyke, S., &Dixon, D. (2009). Identifying and applying psychological theory to setting and achieving rehabilitation goals. Clinical Rehabitation, 23, 321-333.

Seijts, G.H. & Latham, G.P. (2000). The effects of goal setting and group size on performance in a social dilemma. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, 32, 104-116.

Skinner, B.F. (1953). Science and human behavior. Oxford, England: Macmillan.

Watson, D., Suls, J., & Haig, J. (2002). Global self-esteem in relation to structural models of personality and affectivity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, 185-197.