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Building a practically useful theory of goal setting and task motivation: A 35-year odyssey.

Citation Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (2002). Building a practically useful theory of goal setting and task motivation: A 35-year odyssey.. American Psychologist, 57(9), 705. American Psychological Association. Sidewiki
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author = {Locke, E.A. and Latham, G.P.},
date-added = {2012-05-06 22:03:45 -0400},
date-modified = {2012-05-11 17:27:15 -0400},
date-read = {2012-05-11 17:27:15 -0400},
journal = {American Psychologist},
keywords = {goals},
number = {9},
pages = {705},
publisher = {American Psychological Association},
read = {1},
title = {Building a practically useful theory of goal setting and task motivation: A 35-year odyssey.},
volume = {57},
year = {2002},


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Highlights (14%)

The authors summarize 35 years of empirical research on goal-setting theory. They describe the core findings of the theory, the mechanisms by which goals operate, moderators of goal effects, the relation of goals and satisfaction, and the role of goals as mediators of incentives. The external validity and practical significance of goal-setting theory are explained, and new directions in goal-setting research are discussed. The relationships of goal setting to othertheoriesaredescribedasarethetheory’slimitations. p. 1

Core Findings p. 1

The first issue we addressed was the relationship of goal difficulty to performance. p. 1

Atkinson (1958), a student of McClelland, had shown that task difficulty, measured as probability of task success, was related to performance in a curvilinear, inverse function. The highest level of effort occurred when the task was moderately difficult, and the lowest levels occurred when the task was either very easy or very hard. p. 1

Other factors being equal, expectancy is said to be linearly and positively related to performance. However, because difficult goals are harder to attain than easy goals, expectancy of goal success would presumably be negatively related to performance. The apparent contradiction between the two theories is resolved by distinguishing expectancy within versus expectancy between goal conditions. Locke, Motowidlo, and Bobko (1986) found that when goal level is held constant, which is implicitly assumed by valence–instrumentality– expectancy theory, higher expectancies lead to higher levels of performance. Across goal levels, lower expectancies, associated with higher goal levels, are associated with higher performance. p. 2

he concept of self-efficacy is important in goal-setting theory in several ways. When goals are selfset, people with high self-efficacy set higher goals than do people with lower self-efficacy. They also are more committed to assigned goals, find and use better task strategies to attain the goals, and respond more positively to negative feedback than do people with low self-efficacy (Locke & Latham, 1990; Seijts & B. W. Latham, 2001). p. 2

We found a positive, linear function in that the highest or most difficult goals produced the highest levels of effort and performance. p. 2

Goal Mechanisms p. 2

We also compared the effect of specific, difficult goals to a commonly used exhortation in organizational settings, namely, to do one’s best. We found that specific, difficult goals consistently led to higher performance than urging people to do their best. The effect sizes in meta-analyses ranged from .42 to .80 (Locke & Latham, 1990). p. 2

Goals affect performance through four mechanisms. p. 2

First, goals serve a directive function; they direct attention and effort toward goal-relevant activities and away from goalirrelevant activities. p. 2

Rothkopf and Billington (1979) found that students with specific learning goals paid attention to and learned goal-relevant prose passages better than goal-irrelevant passages. Locke and Bryan (1969) observed that people who were given feedback about multiple aspects of their performance on an automobile-driving task improved their performance on the dimensions for which they had goals but not on other dimensions. p. 2

Second, goals have an energizing function. p. 2

Expectancy and Social–Cognitive Theories p. 2

  1. If the task for which a goal is assigned is new to people, they will engage in deliberate planning to develop strategies that will enable them to attain their goals (Smith, Locke, & Barry, 1990). p. 3
  2. People with high self-efficacy are more likely than those with low self-efficacy to develop effective task strategies (Latham, Winters, & Locke, 1994; Wood & Bandura, 1989). There may be a time lag between assignment of the goal and the effects of the goal on performance, as people search for appropriate strategies (Smith et al., 1990). p. 3
  3. When people are confronted with a task that is complex for them, urging them to do their best sometimes leads to better strategies (Earley, Connolly, & Ekegren, 1989) than setting a specific difficult performance goal. This is because a performance goal can make people so anxious to succeed that they scramble to discover strategies in an unsystematic way and fail to learn what is effective. This can create evaluative pressure and performance anxiety. The antidote is to set specific challenging learning goals, such as to discover a certain number of different strategies to master the task (Seijts & G. P. Latham, 2001; Winters & Latham, 1996). p. 3
  4. When people are trained in the proper strategies, those given specific high-performance goals are more likely to use those strategies than people given other types of goals; hence, their performance improves (Earley & Perry, 1987). However, if the strategy used by the person is inappropriate, then a difficult performance-outcome goal leads to worse performance than an easy goal (Audia, Locke, & Smith, 2000; Earley & Perry, 1987). For a detailed discussion of the relation of task goals and knowledge, see Locke (2000). p. 3

Third, goals affect persistence. p. 3

Moderators p. 3

Goal Commitment p. 3

The goal–performance relationship is strongest when people are committed to their goals p. 3

Fourth, goals affect action indirectly by leading to the arousal, discovery, and/or use of task-relevant knowledge and strategies (Wood & Locke, 1990). p. 3

Seijts and Latham (2000a) found goal commitment questionnaires to have high reliability and validity. p. 3

  1. When confronted with task goals, people automatically use the knowledge and skills they have already acquired that are relevant to goal attainment. For example, if the goal involves cutting logs, loggers use their knowledge of logging without the need for additional conscious planning in their choice to exert effort and persist until the goal is attained (Latham & Kinne, 1974). p. 3

Importance p. 3

  1. If the path to the goal is not a matter of using automatized skills, people draw from a repertoire of skills that they have used previously in related contexts, and they apply them to the present situation. For example, Latham and Baldes (1975) found that truck drivers who were assigned the goal of increasing the weight of their truck loads made modifications to their trucks so that they could better estimate truck weight before driving to the weighing station. p. 3

Making a public commitment to the goal enhances commitment, presumably because it makes one’s actions a matter of integrity in one’s own eyes and in those of others (Hollenbeck, Williams, & Klein, 1989). Goal commitment can also be enhanced by leaders communicating an inspiring vision and behaving supportively. p. 3

Self-efficacy. p. 4

Leaders can raise the self-efficacy of their subordinates (a) by ensuring adequate training to increase mastery that provides success experiences, (b) by role modeling or finding models with whom the person can identify, and © through persuasive communication that expresses confidence that the person can attain the goal (Bandura, 1997; White & Locke, 2000). p. 4

Feedback p. 4

They found that from a motivational perspective, an assigned goal is as effective as one that is set participatively provided that the purpose or rationale for the goal is given. However, if the goal is assigned tersely (e.g., “Do this . . . ”) without explanation, it leads to performance that is significantly lower than for a participatively set goal (Latham, Erez, & Locke, 1988). p. 4

Locke, Alavi, and Wagner (1997) found that the primary benefit of participation in decision making is cognitive rather than motivational in that it stimulates information exchange. For example, Latham et al. (1994) found that with goal difficulty level controlled, participation in goal setting had no beneficial effect on performance. However, people who participated with others in formulating task strategies performed significantly better and had higher self-efficacy than those who did not participate in formulating strategies. p. 4

Control theory (Carver & Scheier, 1981) also emphasizes the importance of goal setting and feedback for motivation. The assumptions that underlie control theory, however, are questionable (Locke, 1991a, 1994; Locke & Latham, 1990). p. 4

As Bandura (1989) stated, goal setting is first and foremost a discrepancy-creating process. Motivation requires feed-forward control in addition to feedback. After people attain the goal they have been pursuing, they generally set a higher goal for themselves. p. 4

Task Complexity p. 4

As the complexity of the task increases and higher level skills and p. 4

strategies have yet to become automatized, goal effects are dependent on the ability to discover appropriate task strategies. p. 5

Another factor that may facilitate performance on new, complex tasks is the use of proximal goals. Latham and Seijts (1999), using a business game, found that doyour-best goals were more effective than distal goals, but when proximal outcome goals were set in addition to the distal outcome goal, self-efficacy and profits were significantly higher than in the do-your-best condition or in the condition where only a distal outcome goal had been set. p. 5

Satisfaction p. 5

Goals are, at the same time, an object or outcome to aim for and a standard for judging satisfaction. To say that one is trying to attain a goal of X means that one will not be satisfied unless one attains X. p. 5

Personal Goals as Mediators of External Incentives p. 5

How can people who produce the most, those with difficult goals, be the least satisfied? The answer is implicit in the question. People with high goals produce more because they are dissatisfied with less. The bar for their satisfaction is set at a high level. This is why they are motivated to do more than those with easy goals. But why would people be motivated to set high goals? People can expect many psychological and practical outcomes from setting and attaining those goals. p. 6

Practical Applications p. 7

Performance Appraisal p. 7

Productivity and Cost Improvement p. 7

Selection p. 7

Self-Regulation at Work p. 8

New Directions and Limitations p. 8

Goal Conflict p. 8

Learning and Performance Goals p. 8

We noted earlier that on tasks that are complex for people, learning goals can be superior to performance goals. However, there have been almost no studies examining the use of both together. p. 8

Performance goals improved grades but did not affect interest, whereas learning goals enhanced interest in the class but did not affect grades. p. 8

Goals and Risk p. 8

Personality p. 9

Goals and Subconscious Motivation p. 9

Conclusion p. 10


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ref/locke2002building.txt · Last modified: 2014/07/05 00:29 by ryan