Peak Performance through Goal Setting

Goal Setting involves establishing specific, measurable and time targeted objectives. Work on the theory of goal-setting suggests that it is an effective tool for making progress by ensuring that participants are clearly aware of what is expected from them, if an objective is to be achieved. On a personal level, setting goals is a process that allows people to specify then work towards their own objectives - most commonly with financial or career-based goals. Goal setting is a major component of Personal development literature.

The business technique of Management by objectives uses the principle of goal setting. In business, goal setting has the advantages of encouraging participants to put in substantial effort; and, because every member is aware of what is expected of.... him or her, little room is left for inadequate effort going unnoticed.

To be most effective goals should be tangible, specific, realistic and have a time targeted for completion. There must be realistic plans to achieve the intended goal. For example, setting a goal to go to Mars on a shoe string budget is not a realistic goal while setting a goal to go to Hawaii as a backpacker is a possible goal with possible, realistic plans.

Drawbacks to Goal Setting
One drawback of goal setting is that implicit learning may be inhibited. This is because goal setting may encourage simple focus on an outcome without openness to exploration, understanding or growth. "Goals provide a sense of direction and purpose". Locke et al. examined the behavioral effects of goal-setting, concluding that 90% of laboratory and field studies involving specific and challenging goals led to higher performance than easy or no goals.

The authors state that people who are told to "do their best" will not do so. "Doing your best" has no external referent which implies that it is useless in eliciting specific behavior. To elicit some specific form of behavior from others, it is important that this person has a clear view of what is expected from him/her. A goal is thereby of vital importance because it facilitates an individual in focusing their efforts in a specified direction. However, when goals are established at a management level and thereafter solely laid down, employee motivation with regard to achieving these goals is rather suppressed. In order to increase motivation the employees not only need to be allowed to participate in the goal setting process but the goals have to be challenging as well.

Goals have the ability to function as a self-regulatory mechanism of guidance. Locke and Latham have distilled four mechanisms through which goal setting is able to affect individual performance:

1) Goals focus attention towards goal-relevant activities and away from goal-irrelevant activities.

2) Goals serve as an energizer; higher goals will induce greater effort while low goals induce lesser effort.

3) Goals affect persistence; constraints with regard to resources will affect work pace.

4) Goals activate cognitive knowledge and strategies which allows employees to cope with the situation at hand. Through an understanding of the effect of goal setting on individual performance organizations are able to use goal setting to benefit organizational performance.

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Author's Bio: 

This book review is part of a series that covers the topic of Peak Performance. The Official Guide to Peak Performance is Dave Carpenter. Over a 25 year career in corporate restructuring, Dave became widely recognized as one of the leaders in this field. As a result, he has long been annually recognized as an honoree in Who’s Who in Law, and Who’s Who in Finance.

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