Locke’s Goal Setting Theory is a great framework to use when setting goals for yourself or for your team. The theory is based on research showing that with the right goals your can increase both productivity and motivation.
Locke and Latham were able to demonstrate that when you set specific and challenging goals, and receive regular feedback on your progress, then your productivity and motivation will increase.
Performance and motivating will increase regardless of whether your job is highly complex or low in complexity. So, whatever job you or your team currently do, Locke’s Goal-Setting Theory can help improve productivity and motivation.
As well as showing the types of goals that can increase motivation, their research also showed how not to set goals. They found that setting unspecific and vague goals failed to increase motivation.
According to Locke’s Goal Setting Theory, examples of vague goals include:
It might seem obvious to you that setting vague goals like this won’t increase motivation or performance, but the thing to understand is the first person to realize and prove this was Locke.
There are many reasons why goals increase productivity, including:
When you get sidetracked you quickly realize that the distraction isn’t moving you towards your goals.
It’s natural to have days where you’re super motivated and other days where things aren’t going so well. Having goals that you’re committed to can give you the determination to push through the difficult times.
If you’re committed to achieving them, then stretch goals can help you to achieve more than you thought possible.
To be motivating and increase productivity, goals need to have the following 5 characteristics:
Let’s examine each of the characteristics in turn of Locke’s Goal Setting Theory.
To be motivating goals need to be clear. When a goal is clear it’s easy to understand exactly what you need to achieve. It’s not open to debate or interpretation.
Conversely, when a goal is vague and imprecise, it’s difficult to know if you’ve achieved it.
Take a look at the following diagram. According to Locke’s Goal Setting Theory, which do you think is the better goal?
Clear: Increase the customer satisfaction score by 15%.
Unclear: Do your best to increase customer satisfaction this quarter.
To be motivating goals need to be challenging, but not too challenging.
A goal that is too easy to achieve won’t motivate you to up your game and increase your performance. Similarly, a goal that you perceive as way beyond your capability won’t motivate you either. It may actually demotivate you.
For a goal to motivate it must hit the sweet spot between challenging you but not over challenging you.
Too easy: Increase customer conversion rate from the present benchmark.
Too challenging: Increase the customer conversion rate by 700%.
Just right: Increase the customer conversion rate by 10%
For a goal to be motivating you must be committed to it. Likewise, if your setting goals for others you need to ensure that they bought into the goal.
No Commitment: You decide in a meeting with your boss what your team’s targets will be and then dictate these targets to your team.
Commitment: You work with your team to determine together what the targets should be and how they can be hit.
In order for a goal continue to motivate you as you work towards it, you must receive feedback.
For feedback to be effective:
Good: Set a team members goals then organize a weekly check-in to monitor their progress.
Bad: Set a team members goals then forget all about them until their end of year performance review.
In order for a goal to be motivating it must not be too complex. Highly complicated goals can be overwhelming and demotivating.
Good Target Setting: Break down complex targets into sub-targets.
Bad Target Setting: Set a complicated target and simply expect your team member to get on with it.
The key takeaway from the work of Locke Goal Setting Theory is that goal setting when done correctly can be a powerful tool for boosting motivation and productivity.
This applies both when your setting personal goals, and when you’re setting goals for your team.
They identified five principles to follow when setting goals. These are that goals should be:
By using Locke’s Goal Setting Theory you can keep your team, and yourself, both productive and motivated.
Self-Efficacy Theory of Motivation
Reinforcement Theory of Motivation
ERG Theory of Motivation
Need Theory of Motivation (McClelland)
Taylor’s Motivation Theory – Scientific Management
Mayo’s Motivation Theory | Hawthorn Effect
Herzberg’s Motivation Theory – Two Factor Theory