How Proper Goal Setting Can Help Your Team Achieve Their Goals
As insignificant or cliché goals may sound, goals actually play a big role in our decision processes, whether we know it or not. Depending on ones’ views and approach, goals have the power to motivate, inspire, and give way to change. For this reason, it is not only important that leaders recognize the influence goals have in the business environment, but also know how they can best capitalize on theirs and their employees’ goal-setting strategy so to attain the best performance outcomes possible. Not knowing how to appropriately set and achieve goals can be unproductive in that self-efficacy (self-confidence), motivation, and job satisfaction may be compromised; ultimately resulting in sub-optimal performance outcomes.
If you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy and inspires your hopes.Andrew Carnegie
Goal Setting Theory: What is it?
Pioneered by Dr. Edwin Locke and Dr. Gary Latham, the theory of goal setting simply says that there is a positive relationship between a specific high (hard) goal and task performance; meaning that setting a specific high goal leads to even better performance as opposed to low (easy) or non-specific goals that encourage individuals to just “do your best” (Latham and Locke, 2007). Goals set the standard for self-efficacy and satisfaction with job performance. Having high goals are motivating to individuals because they set a bar for achieving more in order to be satisfied as opposed to having low goals.
Factors Effecting Goal Setting
There are two types of goals people can engage in: short-term and long-term goals. Setting short-term goals allows for individuals to engage in what researchers, Frese and Zapf (1994), term “error management”. Error management allows feedback from a short-term goal that provides information on whether a person’s picture of reality is congruent with their long-term goal attainment. For example, if errors are made, an employee can stop and get feedback from their supervisor to find out why the error (or mistake) occurred and find out what they can do to fix and prevent it from happening in the future. This way, people can adjust their behaviors, attitudes, performance, etc. in whichever needed to attain their long-term goal.
In some cases, setting specific difficult goals and focusing on reaching a specific performance outcome on a new and complex task can lead to cognitive overload and “tunnel vision”— a focus on reaching the outcome rather than learning the skills and knowledge needed to reach it. When situations as such occur, the best approach is to set learning goals. Rather than focusing on the performance and outcome, learning goals focus on the acquisition of knew knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics needed to perform the task/job at hand. Furthermore, learning goals facilitates one’s metacognition (thinking about thinking)— specifically, planning, monitoring, and evaluating one’s progress.
When presenting a goal, the way the goal is presented is also very important in how people appraise the goal. When assessing goals, a person’s belief in their own abilities to carry out the goal, motivation, and attitude toward goals plays a big role in whether or not goals are attained or not. When people view goals as new challenges, their performance levels are significantly greater than those who view goals as threats. Likewise, framing goals in a positive or negative light has the same effect. When viewed as something positive, individuals perform much higher than those seeing goals in a negative light.
Just as individual goals, setting specific and challenging goals in groups led to better performance than “do your best” goals. Additionally, the more task relevant knowledge shared between team members, the higher the performance outcome. It has also been found that having high personal goals that are compatible with the group’s goals enhances performance as well. However, when a person’s goal is not compatible with the team’s goal; team performance is not increased.
Best Practices to Help You And Your Team Achieve Their Goals
- Set Specific Goals — Goals need to be specific to attain the highest performance outcome possible. Simply telling an individual (or team) to do their best does not set a focused target for performance.
- Goals Must be Difficult but Attainable — By not having difficult goals, the desired enhancements in performance will not be achieved. In order to do so, the goals must be difficult and specific. However, it is important to note that challenging goals are within an individual’s capability. Otherwise, goals become too difficult and performance suffers.
- Goals Must Be Accepted — Goals must be accepted by individuals for commitment to achieving that goal. In order to increase the likelihood of acceptance, allow individuals to participate in the goal-setting process. This will help organizational members better understand the goals, ensure that the goals are reasonable and attainable.
- Provide Feedback — Feedback helps individuals know their performance level and helps determine what needs to be adjusted (if needed).
- Use Goals to Evaluate Performance — When individuals (or teams) know their goal-setting performance will be evaluated, the impact of the goal increases.
- Deadlines Enhance the Effectiveness of Goals — Deadlines help increase the effectiveness of goals in that they serve as a time-control mechanism and increase the motivational impact of goals. However, it is important to note that when deadlines are too tight, the quality of work may suffer (especially with complex tasks).
- Build a Learning Goals Orientation Mindset — Someone with a learning goal orientation strives to develop knowledge and competences by mastering challenging situations. They take on more challenging tasks and view challenge goals as an opportunity to learn. In contrast, those with a performance goal orientation want to be seen in a favorable light. These individuals will choose tasks that are likely to make them look good and avoid tasks that may not make them look good in the eyes of others. Having a learning goals orientation leads to higher performance as it requires individuals to be proactive, problem solvers, creative and open to new ideas, and adaptable.
- Group Goal-Setting Is Important — Group goal-setting is just as important as individual goal setting. Having employees work as teams with a specific goal, rather than having individual goals for each person, increases productivity. Additionally, having a combination of compatible group goals and individual goals is more effective than either individual or group goals by their selves. Furthermore, when team members perceive other members share their personal goals, those individuals will be more satisfied and productive.
- Latham, G. P., & Locke, E. A. (2007). New developments in and directions for goal-setting research. European Psychologist, 12(4), 290-300.
- Locke, E. A. (1982). Relation of goal level to performance with a short work period and multiple goal levels. Journal of Applied Psychology, 67(4), 512.
- Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (2006). New directions in goal-setting theory. Current directions in psychological science, 15(5), 265-268.
- Lunenburg, F. C. (2011). Goal-setting theory of motivation. International journal of management, business, and administration, 15(1), 1-6.