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The Importance Of Reducing The Level of Perception of Goals By Employees

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Sun et al (2014) discussed the importance of reducing the level of ambiguity with respect to employee perceptions of goals, suggesting that in doing so organizations can have a positive effect on employee attitudes and behaviors, which in turn impacts organizational performance. Wright (2004) studied the effects of goal specificity on employee perception of goals finding that perceptions are influenced by how specific performance goals are measured. Sun et al (2014) suggest that by influencing perceptions of goal ambiguity, organizations can influence mission valence, performance, and perceptions of organizational processes and procedures. Locke and Latham (2002) in a review of goal characteristics, placed emphasis on goal specificity as a very important factor of employee workplace attitudes and behaviors.

The found a link between motivation and job satisfaction as a result. Chan (2013) in a study of goal ambiguity and job satisfaction found that by utilizing specific performance goals, organizations could improve employee perceptions of job satisfaction in addition to increasing their level of interest in attaining the goals set. Ottsen et al (2016) suggest expectations of control continues to drive influence on employee goal perception. Locus of control as studied by Levenson (1981) and Rotter (1966) refers to the factors individuals believe to be responsible for the experiences they have within the workplace. Levenson (1981) speaks of the internal control as ones belief that outcomes are dependent upon ones own actions. Rotters’ (1966) views of external control focus on the belief that individual outcomes are unpredictable when they are controlled by others or outside forces.

While goal setting is a powerful tool for driving organizational performance, employee perception of organizational goals is a critical key to goal commitment and delivering positive results for the organization. As Locke and Latham (2002) suggest, a positive perception of goals can have an energizing function. Offering that people who are engaged in the process to develop strategies “performed significantly better…than those who did not participate”  in formulating strategies. The internal locus of control in developing and formulating tasks strategies is more favorable than that of the external, which gives control to others. As goal setting with higher goals, drives greater effort, a more positive view of the process to formulate strategies to achieve those goals can lead to “higher self-efficacy”.

The concept of control has motivational properties with respect to goal setting, perception and commitment. Motivation itself is identified as an “energizing force” that solicits actions and behaviors that determine form, direction, intensity, and duration in work settings. These energizing forces and behaviors as described by Meyer et al (2004) “explain what employees are motivated to accomplish”. Lazaroiu (2015) suggests goal setting can be used to stimulate individuals driving them to perform “at the demanded aims level”. Fu et al. (2009) suggest “external stimuli and internal factors”  have a direct influencing effect on effort. As such there is a significant link between motivation and job performance.

Klinger and Cox (2011), studying organizational motivational structures, discussed the importance of control beliefs. Control beliefs are the perceptions employees hold about the level of control they have on the attainment of organizational goals. In a study of self-set goals, Locke and Latham (1990) state that self-set goals represent personally established objectives or goals. Self-set goals are also known as personal goals and “are likely to influence effort”. Locke and Latham (2002) note when individuals have personal goals, those with higher levels of self efficacy will often set higher and are extremely committed to reaching those goals.

Strickland and Galimba (2001) conducting a study of self-set goals found that participants will be more committed to those self set goals spending more time on the attainment of those goals, than those who do not set their own personal goals. The thinking is that self-set or personal goals have a greater degree of specificity reducing the levels of goal ambiguity and stress. Erez and Kanfer (1983) in a study of goal acceptance and goal setting argued that individuals will accept organizational goals with the intent to develop their own goals, which has a “significant influence on their intentions to achieving those goals”. Vroom (1964) discussed expectancy theory suggesting that when employees are assigned goals, they will first determine if the goal is attainable before putting forth the effort to achieve the goal. Similarly Fu et al. (2009) suggest assigned goals can increase employee effort only after they have committed to the goal.

Fairness, as a factor of employee goal perception influences individual input, as Lane, et al (2017) suggests if individuals feel that the social exchange is fair with respect to their contribution and rewards associated with their contribution, they will have more favorable views of their work. Wentzel (2002) suggests that employee’s fairness perceptions have an effect on goal commitment. Additionally providing evidence that inclusion influences the employee’s idea of fairness perception, which as a result leads to goal commitment. As Lane et al (2017) suggest individuals who have positive perceptions of fairness are motivated to sustain effort to achieve at the same or greater levels. In contrast as Lane et al. (2017) suggest, feelings of unfairness create levels of dissatisfaction in relation to the job and performance. Similarly, Ittner et al., (2003) concluded that motivation is lowered when employees have unfavorable fairness perceptions of performance measurement processes within organizations.

Lane et al. (2017) discussed using a balanced scorecard to induce behavioral changes in individuals, including job performance, suggesting that fairness in the process of setting goals must be perceived to be fair if organizations wish to utilize multiple goals within the balanced scorecard to drive performance. Kaplan and Norton (1996) note that multiple measurements of performance can be key to enhancing the fairness perceptions of employees in relation to an organizations performance measurement system. When employees perceive their organizations performance measurement system procedures and processes as fair, they are “motivated and are more likely to be committed to those strategic goals”.

Lane et al. (2017) speaks of organizational goals suggesting the goals and performance that is being measured should be clear, concise and relevant to provide the desired “motivation, commitment and job satisfaction” at the employee level. Goal setting theory, as researched by Locke and Latham (2002) suggests employees are more likely to be committed if they understand what the organization expects of them with respect to performance. Ayers (2015) notes that setting aligned and specific goals will lead to desired organizational performance outcomes. Goal alignment is important as it “communicates to employees the importance of the organization’s strategic goals”. In addition alignment of goals provides understanding of employee tasks.

This defines what employees will do daily placing relevance on supporting the objectives and goals of the organization. However, it is extremely critical that employees understand how their work “relates to the organizations goals and priorities”. Additionally it is important to note that without relevance there can be no alignment between goals, individuals and the organizations mission. As Ayers (2015) states the key is “linking individuals’ activities to organizational activities”. Ayers (2015) study suggest goal alignment ensures employee actions to attain those goals, will promote the organizations strategic objectives linking them to the desired business outcomes. Organizational performance can be enhanced through motivating the employee base to act. Employees are motivated when “specific performance measures are linked to organizational outcomes”.

Locke et al. (1988) have mentioned, commitment is essential to goal attainment, as with no commitment, “a goal cannot have a motivational effect”. Locke and Latham (1990) define goal attainment as an individual’s determination to attain goals. Goal commitment fuels the pursuit of the goal and as discussed by Fabiny and Lovas (2018), is considered a “prerequisite for its successful attainment”. Fabiny and Lovas (2018) concluded that individuals with a high level of commitment would exhaust more effort toward the attainment of goals. Jackson (1974) shares this perspective suggesting, individuals with high self-efficacy “aspire to accomplish difficult tasks”.

Fairness in goal attainment is an important concept. It speaks to the ability to which the goals developed are actually attainable. Hancock et al. (2018) in a study of fairness in performance management, suggests organizations must align employee performance goals to the priorities of the business, but they must also maintain a strong element of flexibility. That sense of fairness builds trust. In an effort to build trust organizations should avoid assigning goals that are “too numerous, too broad, or too prone to irrelevance” as events within the business and the industry may cause the organization to change business priorities, however the “goals of individuals aren’t revisited” to reflect those changes.

Voice in the process also plays a factor in fairness and goal attractiveness. Hancock et al.s (2018) study suggests organizations should give employees a voice in the processs to develop goals. They note that when organizations make employees at all levels feel personally involved in shaping their own goals, it fosters a greater degree of fairness. Tanja and Ad (2011) concluded that when one has a bit more control during the goal-setting process, this affects the attractiveness of goal-attainment. Sharing this view Webb et al. (2010) noted allowing employees to develop self-goals “would increase goal commitment and performance”.

Commitment to goals.

Locke et al (1988) notes if employees do not commit to goals, “then goal setting will not work” (p. 23). Effort to achieve goals is not simply given based on relevance, attractiveness or the level of difficulty of the goals set. Locke et al (1981) define goal commitment as an individuals determined efforts to pursue and reach a goal over a defined period of time. Conversely when employees are committed to goals there is “an unwillingness to lower or abandon the goal”.

Locke and Latham (2002) also suggest, the concept of the goal-performance relationship is at its peak when individuals are wholly committed to their goals. Hollenbeck et al. (1989) posits, commitment is related to performance within given goal conditions. Individuals are more likely to perform at higher levels, if they have accepted and committed to the goals set by the organization. There are however personal factors that affect goal commitment.

Personal factors

Locus of control, as discussed by (Rotter 1966) identifies external and internal locus of control related to goal commitment. Those with an external locus of control may perceive the goal to be beyond their reach, while those who have an internal locus of control, may perceive the goal to be attainable. Volition, or the extent to which an employee exerts their free will also impacts goal commitment. Hollenbeck et al. (1989) notes volition is related to the origin of the goal suggesting, “self-set goals imply volition, whereas assigned goals imply less volition” , however Wright et al (1994), in a study of goal commitment individuals who strongly commit to goals “internalize assigned goal as their own personal goal” and as such personal goals were a major determination of employee performance”.

Goal congruence, defined by Vancouver et al. (1994) as the “agreement among organizational employees on the importance of organizational goals” (p. 666), is another personal factor that impacts goal commitment. Vancouver et al. (1994), suggests organizational goal congruence “reflect the values and commitments of the founders” (667). Schneider’s (1987) study on the attraction selection attrition (ASA) model concluded that individuals are attracted to organizations because they have a positive perception of the organizations performance goals and as a result will remain with the organization.

Vancouver and Schmitt (1991) stated when employees agree on the priorities of organizational goals, this will have “has a profound effect on attitudes”. Vancouver et al. (1994) states goal agreement affects individual attitudes and their personal link to the organization as it relates to their perceptions of “satisfaction, organizational commitment, and intention to quit” (p. 667). However for commitment to be achieved, Schaffer (2013) suggests those in leadership roles must “address the degree to which all goals coincide with one another” (p. 22).

Motivating commitment

Commitment has a major role in securing organizational goals. For those employees who have not committed effort to attaining goals, those “goals will have little to no effect on their behavior” . Locke and Latham (1990) provided evidence of the benefits of a motivated and committed workforce. Goal setting is a key to this motivational process. Meyer et al. (2004) discussed goal oriented motivated behavior suggesting this occurs “whether the goals are self-generated or assigned by others” . Self-set goals or organizational assigned goals can vary in specificity, which determines the individuals “direction of behavior, the amount of effort exerted and the degree of persistence”.

Schaffer (2013) posits while specificity is very important, employees must be committed to the goals in order to have the desired motivational impact. A critical factor in that commitment and motivation is goal acceptance. Schaffer (2013) concluded that in order for employees to accept the goals, they must be “centered on the alignment of personal and organizational values”. Miner (2015) suggests that goals that are deemed to be more important “are more likely to be accepted” (p.112) by employees and as a result “elicit commitment and…foster persistent striving” (p. 112). However, once committed, individuals will then develop their own “strategies to facilitate goal attainment”.

When organizations are confronted with employees who are not committed or motivated to attain organizational goals, Schaffer (2013) suggests focusing on employee participation and incentives and rewards”, as a means to improve incongruence or acceptance. These types of techniques can also be used to motivate employees and drive commitment from those who possess a greater degree of skills and self-efficacy. Tubbs and Ekeberg (1991) suggest employee intention in connection with motivation encourages persistence and as such the effect of goals is that “an individual’s intention may remain stable over time”, driving the commitment of the employee to actively focus on achieving or exceeding the organizational objectives that have been placed in front of them.

Organizations can also employ other measures to motivate commitment. There are extrinsic and intrinsic motivators. Extrinsic motivators are those that “lie outside of the individual and the task being performed”. An example of this form of motivation is providing a reward to those employees who are able to meet a particular goal set by the organization. Monetary incentives, extra paid time off or prizes and gifts can all be examples of extrinsic motivators to commit to and to meet or exceed goals. Intrinsic motivators are those “found within the individual”.

An example of this form of motivation is when employees perform because they receive a high degree of enjoyment in the task performed. Additionally those who possess a higher degree of self-efficacy will most often commit to the goals that are in place. Leaders can increase the self-efficacy of employees through mentoring and influential suggestive communication “that expresses that the person can attain the goal”. Amabile (1997) suggests employees are at their creative peaks when they are “primarily intrinsically motivated”. Increasing the level of self-efficacy in employees promotes effort and energy to achieve.

This persuasive communication fosters commitment and persistence to agree to the goal and to continue to put effort in attaining the goal. Lane et al. (2017) views goal commitment as “an independent influence on behavior that may lead to a persistence” to achieve the goal. Studies have shown the relevance of motivation and commitment as an important factor in organizational performance outcomes. Malina and Selto (2001) argued that by increasing employee motivation, organizations could have a positive impact on performance. Lane et al. (2017) concluded that motivation is important as it directs behaviors and induces action on the part employees.

Motivation and commitment are interlinked as one can precede the other and vice versa. As noted by Locke et al. (1988) who argued that goals cannot have any impacts on behavior if the employee has not committed to the goal. Thus the importance of motivation, as Lane et al. (2017) note employees may lack the necessary commitment and effort to achieve a goal, if they have not been properly motivated to do so.

These are examples of one factor preceding the other. However, commitment can be induced by motivational techniques both intrinsic and extrinsic as discussed by Ormrod, 2014. As both commitment and motivation are active components of one another, organizations that focus on commitment actions for employees can gain “understanding of behaviors that have broader social implications” within the organization. Commitment, “a force that binds an individual to a course of action”  can assist in molding the motivational mindset of employees in order to meet or exceed performance objectives of the organization.

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