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Effectiveness Of Influencing Goal Setting

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From a small firm involved just in the service sector to a large multination organisation involved in all areas of business this question is destined to arise at one point in some shape or form of just how can the line manager effectively set goals that would enhance the performance of their people.  “Based on hundreds of studies, the major finding of goal setting is that individuals who are provided with specific, difficult but attainable goals perform better than those given easy, nonspecific, or no goals at all. At the same time, however, the individuals must have sufficient ability, accept the goals, and receive feedback related to performance.”

The fallowing review of literature not only answers the question on how to use goal setting in high performance work practice but explains multiple of guideline principles based on some of the best literature that is out there on the topic for the reader to consider in the context of their own organisation. From what are the most common issues to some suggestion on how to address this question. Goal setting is the underlying motive for most of the well-known theories of motivation would it be Vroom (1994) VIE theory, Skinner (1979) operant based behaviourism model, Bandura A. (1986) social cognitive theory, Herzberg F. (2009) or one of the most well know Maslow A. H. (1970) motivation theories. Goal setting is the key underlaying factor in nearly all most acknowledged motivational theories.

Nearly every organisation has some sort of program or a system for goal setting would it be benchmarking, stretch targets, strategic planning, Management by Objective Program’s, High Performance Work Practice, a Kaizen methodology of continuous improvement. Holpp L. (1989) “Employee achievement-motivation training is one-way corporations can obtain continuing improvement at all levels in organizations. Firms are discovering that establishing corporate cultures based on continuing improvement can lead to results which mimic Japanese business management success. There are four principles on how to attain an achievement philosophy in firms including: setting moderately difficult goals; encouraging feedback; encouraging workers to take responsibility for their work; and creating an action-oriented working environment.

Employees interested in implementing these principles need to do such activities as: examining jobs and identifying effective and ineffective behaviours; taking action as a team or individually to improve productivity, customer satisfaction, and quality; and using an action-planning process to implement tasks.” DuBrin, (2012) Managers widely accept goal setting as a means to improve and sustain performance. There for goal setting is a crucial element when attempting to effectively enhance people performance in any sort of organisation. Literature points out that a very common mistake is combining goals with a form of financial rewards in turn motivates people to set easy rather than difficult or challenging goals, in some cases employees have already negotiated the goals with their superiors based on similar goals that they have already achieved.

Another common mistake made by managers setting out goals is lack of focus on the people who will be achieving these goals. Rather focusing on narrow set of measurable performance indicators such as increase in sales or positive feedback of customers, ignoring factors involved in job performance that are far more difficult to quantify like employee job satisfaction, is performance goal effective in an already established job or are employees required to learn a new more complex job to achieve this desired enhance performance. Argues that “even for as widely accepted idea as this is it can still go very wrong fast as Executives can meet certain challenges after setting goals for their companies.

Objectives might not be assigned fairly across those responsible or the timeframe to achieve them is either too short or too long. Some of the challenges regarding the goal-setting process are detailed below. Even if managers could anticipate all of the potential problems accruing it does not mean that they could prevent them as it necessary to fail sometimes and to learn from them failures as Roxana Barb highlights not appreciating the failure and not rewriting when issues are encountered. These are some of the most common challenges so how can a line manager effect goal setting to enhance people performance in the service sector and to do so effectively. As front-line manager is often the first line of contact with employees it is crucial that the goals setting fallows set guideline principles to aid the line manager set performance enhancing goals effectively. Based on literature the goals setting principles are as fallows.

Goals Must Be Attainable

A goal that is easily achieved most definitely will not bring the desired increase in performance that the goal might have been set on. They key fact in this literature is that the goal must be attainable but by no means it should be easy to achieve it must be difficult but to such level where the goal is challenging but not unattainable. However, people will work hard to reach challenging goals, they will only do so when the goals set are within their ability levels and within their capability. As goals become too difficult, performance suffers because people reject the goals as unattainable, too difficult or not having the ability to obtain the set goal. Bandura mentions that “A major factor in attainability of a goal is self-efficacy. The first key factor to successful goal setting is to build employees’ self-efficacy. This is an internal belief regarding one’s job-related capabilities and competencies.”

Goals and Deadlines Need to Be Specific

Asking an individual to work harder, smarter or faster is not very useful to them there for goal needs to accommodate the pressure the personnel or the individual are under into account and clearly outlined what the goal is. Research indicates that specific goals help bring about other desirable organizational goals, such as reducing absenteeism, tardiness, and turnover. It also it allows people to focus in on what it is that’s expected of them as well as when the set-out goals are to be completed by.

Literature suggest that deadlines help enhance the overall motivational impact of the goal. If an employee possesses extra available time to achieve their goals the person may then slow down to their own pace and fill the available time with either distractions or enhanced quality of work for their determined goals, hoe and individual will determine how to spend their available time will depend greatly on their motivation and commitment to the goal..

Goals Must Be Accepted

Bandura, (1997) Goals need to be accepted. A very effective technique that has shown over many research studies carried out around the world time and time again is that allowing people to participate in the goal setting process. Literature has shown that simply setting goals to employees may not result in them committing to set out goals, especially if the goal are difficult to accomplish but if you are getting them involved in the goal setting process it may help to enhance their commitment to the set out goals. Allowing people to participate in the goal setting has additional benefits of them not only being able to understand the goals better and the thought process driving these goals but also it might help the manager ensure that the goals set are not unreasonable or unattainable. Also, the factor of self-efficacy mentioned above also may come into play regarding imposed goals. Some individuals may reject imposed goals, but if they have self-efficacy, they may still maintain high personal goals to meet the set-out goals.

Feedback Must Be Provided and Progress Monitored

Locke & Latham (1990). Literature suggests that in order for goals to be successful constructive feedback must be provided on timely basis as this helps people determine how well they are doing in terms of achieving their goals as well as allowing people to determine of where are they fitting in within the set out time line in which the goals are to be completed. For example, a golfer needs to know his score card, a shooter needs to see his target and a sports team needs to know the score of the game.

This crucial information not only enhances performance on set goals but given the fact it is provided in a timely manner it allows for a team or an individual to adjust the nature of their performance adoringly to meet their goals. It helps people to maintain their focus on task at hand. So, the golfer could adjust his swing a sports team can watch a video recording of a game to adjust their game and strategy. A service team or an individual then could adjust themselves accordingly. Locke & Latham, (2002) “What gets measured is what gets done.”

Group Goal’s Should Also Reach People on Individual level

When people are working in teams, committees or groups on specific group or organisational goals it can be rather difficult to make these goals appeal on individual level for people to maintain their best efforts, motivation and commitment. Kristof-Brown & Stevens, (2001) “A recent study of project teams indicated that a perceived fit between individual and group performance goals resulted in greater individual satisfaction and contribution to the team and the overall organisational performance. “

Literature also suggests that people working with individual goals set to achieve something on personal level would it be to acknowledge or to test their own ability, learn something new (a learning goal orientation) or seeking recognition and/ or approval from others. These factors on personal level have shown an enhanced performance in the overall goal accomplishment on the organisational level. Also, if an individual feel that their personal goals can be related across their team and their team members can relate to them this can furthermore enhance performance on the individual as well as organisational level.

A furthermore in-depth literature by Luthans, (2011) suggests “The learning goal orientation is particularly relevant in today’s work environment, which requires employees to be proactive, problem solve, be creative and open to new ideas, and adapt to new and changing situations. Considerable research has indicated that a learning goal orientation has a positive impact on work-related behaviours and performance” If individual feels that their personal goals are shared amongst their team members and understood by their superiors this can lead to further increase in satisfaction and productivity of the individual, team and the organisation. Kristof-Brown & Stevens, (2001) “individual goals is more effective than either individual or group goals alone.”


How can a line manager effect goal setting to effectively enhance performance of people acting in the service sector? There is no shortage of literature on the topic and Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. are most definitely the pioneers on the topic of goal setting but Bandura, A. has to be also brought to the attention for his outstanding psychological experience and the expertise that he shares in his research on “Social foundations of thought and action” & “Self-efficacy: The exercise of control.” This literature provides a broader prospective for a line manager to consider and to incorporate into their goal setting if they wish to do so to provide them with a stronger opportunity to effectively enhance the performance of their teams regardless of the sector that they are working in would it be services department or hand to hand work.

Literature also suggests that one that managers should look deeper into the psychology of a human mind if they wish to set out gaols more effectively as the traditional Reeves M. and Fuller J (2018) “SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound) are not so smart driving businesses in a wrong direction” also, these are only a tip of an iceberg as competitive environment has to be taken into account. Literature suggests that there are far more psychological factors at paly that determine the effectiveness of the goals on organisational level as well as individual level, especially on the topic of enhancing performance.

Locke and Latham provide a well-developed goal-setting theory of motivation, but psychological Factors from Maslow, Skinner and Bandura might help a manager to gain that extra edge on driving effectiveness of goal setting to enhance the performance. Research supports the predictions that the most effective performance seems to arise when goals set are specific, challenging. Specially when goals are monitored and used to evaluate the performance and linked to feedback the results and the progress. Also creating commitment and acceptance further improves the focus and the motivation of people. The motivational impact and the commitment of goals may be affected by factors such as ability and self-efficacy of people.  Deadlines improve the effectiveness of goals. A learning goal orientation leads to enhanced performance. Rather than focusing on a narrow subset of performance goal orientation, or goals on the organisational level, the individual goal setting is just as important as is the group goal setting.

The literature suggests that when people are able to connect set goals to personal level and connect these to their team members this can further enhance the performance and the outcome of set goals. Even if the managers takes all of this into account he or she should allow room for failure and be prepared to learn from failure while remaining equally prepared to rewrite the goals if necessary author did not focus on service area intentionally as nearly all areas of business involve some shape or form of a service department. Therefor as service departments can be very diverse author attempts to focus the literature on catering all levels of management and all areas of business for its relevance and appeal to all.


  1. Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall
  2. Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York, NY: W. H. Freeman.
  3. Barb R. (2018). Operational Performance, “Goal-setting: strategies, challenges and mistakes”. Performance Magazine
  4. DuBrin, A. J. (2012). Essentials of management. Mason, OH: Cengage South-Western
  5. Herzberg, F. (2009). One more time: How do you motivate employees? Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business School Press
  6. Holpp L. (1989) ‘Achievement motivation and kaizen.’ Training & Development Journal, vol. 43, no. 10, Oct. 1989, p. 53+. Gale Academic OneFile,
  7. Kristof-Brown, A. L., & Stevens, C. K. (2001). Goal congruence in project teams: Does the fit between members’ personal mastery and performance goals matter? Journal of Applied Psychology, 86(6), 1083-1095.
  8. Latham, G. P. (2003). Goal setting: A five-step approach to behaviour change. Organizational Dynamics, 32(3), 309-318.
  9. Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (1990). A theory of goal setting and task performance. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  10. Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (2002). Building a practically useful theory of goal setting and task motivation. American Psychologist, 57(9), 705-717.
  11. Lunenburg F. C. (2011) Goal-Setting Theory of Motivation. Sam Houston State University, International Journal Of Management, Business and Administration Volume 15, Number 1.
  12. Maslow, A. H. (1970). Motivation and personality. MA: Probhat books, A division of Probhat Prakashan 2015 Publishing
  13. Reeves M. and Fuller J (2018) When SMART Goals are Not So Smart. Harvard Business Review
  14. Skinner, B. F. (1979). The shaping of a behaviourist. New York, NY: Knopf
  15. Vroom, V. H. (1994). Work and motivation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
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