Motivation an optimal productivity and performance. Many



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Akhawayne University






MGT5399: Organizational










Nowadays, organizations are
operating in an environment characterized by an exacerbated competition due to
the increasing transformations in technologies, markets, and customers’
requirements. As a result, the companies’ stakeholders have become more demanding.
In fact, shareholders ask for more dividends, customers for better
price/quality products, creditors and suppliers for more guarantees…
Consequently, and as a response to all these challenges, organizations all over
the world try to hire highly qualified employees, and provide them with an
adequate work environment to generate the best outcome from their skills and
competencies; however such result is not always guaranteed.

In this regard, and in order
to determine the main factors that could make companies thrive and perform,
many practitioners and theoreticians have studied the human behaviour within
organizations, they also tried to determine the factors that could lead to an
optimal productivity and performance. Many factors have been subject to these
studies such as the leadership style, technology, external and internal
environment, the strategy (elements of contingency theory)…

In this paper, I am going to
put the emphasis on one aspect of Organizational Behaviour that has been intensivelystudied since the
beginning of the last century,  namely,
employees’ Motivation. In this regard, I will try to asses one of the most
influential theories of motivation, which is goal-setting theory of Locke and
Latham and determine how it affects performance within organizations.

In the first section of my
paper, I will presentdifferent definitions of Motivation and an overview about
the classical theories related to this concept. The second section will be
dedicated to the different findings of goal-setting theory of Locke and Latham.
The third section will be dedicated to the literature review of this theory. In
the last section I will try to provide new research directions that may tackle
the limitations of goal-setting theory.

Definitions and earliest perceptions of motivation


In an organizational context, motivation can be
defined as the psychological characteristics that guide and stimulate the human
behaviour in order to generate voluntary actions aligned with the organizations
goals.Scholars tried to tailor the motivation definition differently, thus we
can find multiple definitions in the organization literature. Nevertheless, all
these definitions shared three main aspects that turn around factors that
stimulate, channel, and prolong human behaviour through time (Steers et al., 2004).

Lakhani and Von Hippel (2003) and Lemer and Tirole
(2004) distinguished between two components of motivation
related to intrinsic and extrinsic factors. The former relies on internal
factors or deep-rooted desires within the human nature, such as self-esteem,
personal satisfaction, acceptance, curiosity… The latter relies on external factors
that serve as stimuli that trigger motivation, such as rewards, bonuses,
benefit packages…

perceptions of motivation

Classical theories stating the earliest
perceptions of motivation: F.W.Taylor (piece rate incentive system within the
scientific management theory), E.Mayo (human relations approach), McGregor
(theory X and theory Y).

and Latham goal-setting theory

One of the most influential and practical content
theories of motivation is Locke and Latham goal setting theory. This theory claims
that the higher the difficulty of the task to achieve, the higher is the
performance, and thus, motivation is enhanced through setting challenging
goals. In order to reach such conclusion Locke and Latham accumulated four
decades of studies where they have figured out 
a positive linear relationship between the task
difficulty level and the performance level; thus the highest is the task
difficulty, the highest is the effort and the performance attained (Locke & Latham, 2002). In addition to that, they
also have compared specific-difficult goals to the commonly used exhortation
“do your best” goal in terms of performance. As a result Locke and Latham claim
that the goals must be both specific and difficult in order to attain a higher
performance (Locke & Latham, 1990).

Locke and
Latham described how goals affect performance through fours mechanisms. First,
goals determine the direction to follow, in other words, they direct attention
toward pertinent activities and consequently drive attention away from
irrelevant tasks. This mechanism is referred to as a directive function (Locke
and Latham p706). Second, goals are considered as stimuli that enhance efforts,
the higher is the goal, the higher is the performance (Locke and Latham,
2002).Third, goals affect persistence, in a way that hard goals with tight
deadlines lead to more effort and a more rapid work pace to meet the deadlines
(Latham & Locke, 1975). Fourth, goals foster the use and the development of
task-relevant knowledge and strategies. When confronted to a task goal, people
use the skills and knowledge that are relevant to the goal attainment or the
ones that has been used in related or similar contexts (Wood & Locke,

Locke and Latham did also provide three moderators of
goal effect in this theory. The first is goal commitment. Locke and Latham claim that the
goal-performance relationship is strongest when people are committed to the
goal achievement. Two factors can lead to goal commitment: Firstly, the
importance, it is about how to convince people about the importance of goals
attainment.  In this regard, many factors
can generate importance, such as monetary rewards, inspirational speeches or
showing that goals are meeting the people’s aspirations. Secondly,
self-efficacy, or the belief that people can attain the goal (Locke and Latham,

The second moderator isfeedback. Before a definitive evaluation of
goal attainment, people need summary feedbacks to evaluate their progress in
achieving the goals assigned. In fact, if people do not know how well they are
performing, it will be difficult for them to address or adjust their efforts to
match the goals requirements (Locke and Latham, 2002)  

The third moderator istask complexity. According to Locke and Latham, task
complexity is reduced through specificity. The higher is the specificity and
the difficulty of a task, the higher is the performance (Locke & Latham,


There is no doubt that goal-setting theory provided
important insights to managers. It helped understanding the mechanisms that can
lead to employees’ motivation through the use of external factors rather than
only satisfying needs, necessities, and aspirations; however, it was the
subject of many criticisms. Many scholars and practitioners brought into sight
many limitations that emphasize many undesirable side-effects of goal-setting

When two separate goals are set at the same time, the
effort can be more focused on one to the detriment of the other (Latham, 2004).
For instance setting quantity and quality goals simultaneously will put the
focus on the increase in quantity and will badly affect the quality (Latham,

Another limitation, referred to as tunnel vision, is
happening when too much attention is focused narrowly on the specific assigned
task, thus people might overlook some other interesting aspects of their job
(PSU WC, 2015, L. 6). As a demonstration of this limitation, Simons and Chabris
conducted a study people were asked to measure the number of passes in a
basketball game. People were too focused on counting the number of passes that
they didn’t notice a man in gorilla suit on the course. Thus, too much concentration
on the task achievement might lead to neglect other elements in our environment
(Simons &Chabris, 1999).

One more negative effect of goal setting theory is
inhaling personal initiatives and taking place of independent thinking. It
obliges the person to stick to the goals that have been set. For instance, when
we set goals to people, it becomes difficult for them to motivate themselves or
have any personal touch in order to achieve the goal (Bennett, 2009, para. 14).

Another limitation is called inappropriate time
horizon. When organizations set a specific goal with a specific time horizon,
people perceive their goals as a maximum bound to reach, thus once they achieve
the goals they stop to provide more efforts (Ordonez & al, 2009). Camerer, Babcock, Loewenstein, &Thaler (1997)
studies related to answering the question “why is it difficult to find a cab on
a rainy day in NY?” are confirming this issue.

issue had been argued which is related to the level of difficulty of the goals
assigned. When the goals are too challenging, people tend to adopt riskier
strategies and unethical behavior in order to meet the goals that have been set
in terms of deadline and output(Ordonez & al, 2009).Elaborating the problem of riskier and unethical behaviour.

Maitlis, and Briner (1995) argued that goals that were set during the researches of Locke and Latham were clear and
straightforward and were mainly studied in controlled environments. Thus their
assessment was a quite easy task. But in real situations and within authentic
organization with their daily routine, problems and diversity of tasks, it
becomes very delicate to assess goals achievement. Yearta, Maitlis, and Briner (1995) also claim that the
clarity and the specificity of goals become diluted because of many disturbing
factors that surround the organization environment and thus at the opposite of
employees who were the subjects of Locke and Latham studies in a controlled
environment, employees in authentic organizations have to achieve the goals
under stress, distraction, and limited time period.

Silverthorne (2005) stated
that nowadays organizations are operating in cross-cultural environment where
diversity is a key element. For this reason, practitioners should take into
consideration all the components that reflect this diversity, such as race,
gender, and culture…in order to set goals that are aligned with individual
attributes and differences.By doing so, organizations can enhance motivation
and as a result increase performance.

research directions

discussed above, we can assume that goal setting theory provided a sound
contribution in the field of employees’ motivation, however, it hides many
conflicting and negative aspects. Hence, the importance of reconsidering the
framework of this theory by presenting new directions that will alter some of
the negative points already discussed.

In this paper, I will try to define new goals in such
way that they will combine between three different aspects. The first one is
related to the level of difficulty and specificity of the goal and the level of
performance that it can trigger. In this regard, we are going, at first, to
determine at which extent the difficulty of the goal cannot lead to
demotivation or to the adoption of riskier and unethical behaviour. Secondly,
we are going to address the issue of specificity in order to not neglect
broader aspects. The second aspect is associated to the employees’ personal
aspirations. In this regard, we are going to determine to which extent the goal
assigned allow to employees to realize their ambitions. The third aspect
concerns the alignment of the goal assigned with ethical norms.

The challenge is to set goals that are comprehensive
of the three dimensions stated above:

The level of difficulty
and specificity of goals: measured through the goal achievement in terms
of effectiveness and efficiency;
Respect of personal
aspirations: measured through the personal satisfaction of the employee
and if achieving the goal is providing any self-esteem or
Respect of ethical
principles: verifying if the goal achievement is not presenting any
contradiction toward ethical norms and principles.





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