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Goal-Setting Theory Advantages & Disadvantages

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The goal-setting theory was developed in the 1960s by Dr. Edwin Locke and Dr. Gary Latham. The general premise of their theory was that individuals and groups produce the best output when motivated by specific, challenging, attainable and quantified goals. Applying the goal-setting theory in an organization has a significant number of advantages, and only a few obstacles that goal-setters must consider.

Sets a Course

The goal-setting theory is based on the notion that a goal establishes a purpose or path for a person or group. This purpose drives direction, motivation and intensity of effort to achieve it. When an individual has a quantified monthly goal to attain, he is more likely to navigate obstacles in pursuit of it. Without a clear target, you often struggle to find intrinsic motivation to push forward through difficulty. For a work group or team, goals create unifying path.

Establishes Commitment

"Commitment" is a common synonym for "goal." Locke and Latham indicated that without a clear, quantified goal, you have no firm commitment to accomplish something. A salesperson without a target sales volume has no commitment to sell with intensity, for instance. With a stated quota, you have a commitment to yourself as well as your sales manager. Goal-setting theory indicates that a commitment drives accomplished-motivated people to persist though obstacles. You also avoid the potential for falling into a "comfort zone," which happens when you have no outstanding commitments.

Drives Planning and Feedback

Goals create the impetus for strategic planning and task assignments. Managers rely on goals to divide up work in their departments. Each team and employee is assigned a particular role in which he must achieve job goals, while also contributing to shared team and organizational goals. The goal-setting theory also notes that you need specific goals to evaluate progress. Having no goals is akin to driving without a destination. In a career, you wander aimlessly with no sense of direction. As workers and departments progress toward goals, evaluations allow for communication and plan modification when necessary.

Goal-Setting Theory Obstacles

A primary reason people avoid setting goals is that they put pressure on them to perform. Thus, the same compulsion to act that Locke and Latham noted achievement-driven people have with goals, others perceive as stress and fear. Tunnel vision with goals may also cause a person or group to miss opportunities that pop up, or the need to veer in a new direction because of a serious threat. Setting goals also takes time, which causes some organizations, leaders and employees to avoid them.


Neil Kokemuller has been an active business, finance and education writer and content media website developer since 2007. He has been a college marketing professor since 2004. Kokemuller has additional professional experience in marketing, retail and small business. He holds a Master of Business Administration from Iowa State University.

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