The A, B, Cs of Goal Setting
Goals must be specific and measurable. They should answer the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the expectations of the goal. Specificity and measurability provide frame of reference to gauge progress, whereas vague “do better” goals are ambiguous and often have little effect on motivation. Removing ambiguity allows one to focus on precise actions and behaviors related to goal achievement. The more specific the goal, the more explicitly performance will be affected. Specific goals lead to better performance than do vague or abstract goals (Locke & Latham, 2002). A person can set a general goal to lose weight but a goal to lose 2 pounds per month for 12 months is more specific and therefore more effective. These goals will be more motivating than the broad goals of just doing better. With a clear objective in mind people will be more dedicated to reaching their set goal. Goals without an external referent allow for a wide range of acceptable performance levels (Locke & Latham, 2002). In order for performance to increase, goals must be challenging, specific, and concrete.
Goal specificity does not insure performance at an exceptional level. Specific goals vary in difficulty. The performance of these goals will also depend on the intellect and abilities of each individual. Just because a goal is specific, does not guarantee that an individual will put forth an increased effort to obtain the goal. Management may implement policies that require workers to sell two cars per day. If this is below the actual performance that is normal for an individual, that person may not exert any extra effort to obtain or exceed that goal because the goal required is not difficult to achieve. In fact the individual may lower the performance to remain consistent with other employees. Motivation also plays an important role in goal specificity. The individual must be motivated to obtain the projected goal, or in other words the goal must have a level of importance to that individual in order for them to seek to reach it. If a career selling cars comes secondary to going to school, the individual may not expend the required effort to reach set goals but instead only perform at a level that they view as satisfactory.
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While the advantages of goal setting are abundant, the process has potential drawbacks. If utilized incorrectly, goal setting has the potential to cause rather than solve problems. For example, if goals are used with a threat of negative consequences, stress and anxiety can be increased (Locke, 1996). Additionally, when there is a conflict between two or more goals, performance with respect to each goal may be undermined (Locke, Smith, Erez, Chah, & Shaffer, 1994).
Goal setting can be a useful tool to enhance interest in a task. However, if a goal is deemed arbitrary or unattainable, then dissatisfaction and poor performance may result. If difficult goals are set without proper quality controls, quantity may be achieved at the expense of quality (Latham & Locke, 2006).