Can Goal Setting Really Make A Difference? Article by McCallum Associates
14th February 2011
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Article Provided by Miriam McCallum of McCallum Associates.

Can goal setting really make a difference?

As we begin 2011 - the idea of the year ahead is like a fresh page, a new start.  For many of us, this is when we take the opportunity to start to think about goals and what we want to achieve for the year ahead, whether this is within your business, your personal life, or indeed both.

I would like to explore this with you – in a number of ways:
1. What is Goal setting theory?
2. Why is goal setting important?
3. How can you use this knowledge and set goals so that you can achieve them?

What is Goal setting theory?

Goal setting theory is about having a goal and how its existence motivates you to create a list of tasks and develop a strategy in order for you to achieve that goal. Edwin Locke  developed his theory of Goal setting theory in late 1960, and this has remained one of the most influential theories in the science of motivation and behaviour ever since. His premise was that people were motivated by clear goals and feedback. Of course, much has been explored since then and the theory has been refined and developed – however the basic principles remain the same:

• Clarity - The best goals are clear cut, specific, productive and tangible (you will be familiar with the concept of a SMART goal). A vague goal, on the other hand, has little motivational value – “Communicate more effectively” for example is a vague goal. Telling someone to “try hard” or “do your best” is less effective than telling them to “aim to get more than 80% correct”.
• Challenge – Harder goals are more rewarding and produce a greater sense of achievement at the end– and hence an on-going sense of drive and inspiration throughout so they have more motivational value.
• Commitment- when the goals is “owned” 
• Feedback – is crucial to the process. This helps people determine if they are on the right track or if they need to change direction. Supportive feedback is  very motivational – although internal feedback is sometimes overlooked – negative self -talk can be just as de-motivational as negative comments from others
• Task complexity – to avoid overwhelm, people need the goal to relate to the bigger picture and at the same time have mechanisms to break the goal into smaller, manageable chunks. They may also need training to equip them with the necessary resources and skills to achieve the goal.

Why is this important?

Because goal setting it is a powerful way to motivate yourself and to create a motivational environment for others. The fact that this is so taken for granted shows the impact of this theory on personal and professional performance.
Ah, but …

This is all very well in theory …but this does not always work like this in practice. It would appear that goal setting is a little more complex than was first thought –  and so Locke in collaboration with many others have continued to research this area and  here are some additional findings:

Sometimes, specific difficult goals do not lead to better performance – other than simply urging people to do their best. Focusing on reaching a specific outcome on a new complex task can lead to “tunnel vision” - a focus on reaching the goal rather than on the skills required to reach it.

There are in fact 2 different kinds of goals:
• Learning goals
• Performance goals

So, in the case of reaching a specific outcome on a complex task – the goal is more likely to be achieved if a learning goal is assigned to acquire the requisite task knowledge.  Learning goals have been shown to enable our brains to work better – they enhance metacognition, i.e. planning, monitoring and evaluating progress.  This is really important in situations where there is minimal guidance, e.g. when people have to work in a remote team structure. Interestingly, people who set learning goals report more satisfaction in their pursuit of the goal.

Another consideration is that difficult goals may be perceived as threatening. The way a goal is “framed” is important here. For example, when people perceive the goals as a challenge – focusing on the usefulness of effort – the performance is likely to increase. When people view a difficult  goal as a threat – e.g. in the current economic climate with lots of unprecedented and unplanned change –research shows their performance  is likely to be significantly less than those who see the difficulty as a challenge.

How can you use this knowledge and set goals so that you can achieve them?

The first step is to decide what your goals are – and write them as SMART goals. You will need to ensure that they are sufficiently challenging, include learning goals, and have a sufficient reward or reason for achieving the goal that makes it valuable for you.

Now you need to decide why this is important. We all have reasons for achieving - and it is work thinking about in the context of your goals: Why do you want to achieve this goal? What will this make possible? This is a “towards” motivation. Alternatively - you may prefer to think about what could be avoided when you achieve this goal – this is “away from” motivation. Both are valid – the point here is to be aware of why this is important to you in the first place. This will facilitate your commitment and clarity for achievement of your goal.

The next step is to work out your strategy for achieving this. A very motivational way to do this is to begin at the end and work backwards.  This rather like time travel – and you will need to use your imagination. For example “it is now the end of 2011 and I have achieved my next promotion”
The strategies to get there could be elicited by asking the following questions still in the “future” tense:
How did I do that? What milestones did I set out and achieve along the way? What was the first thing I did? What resources did I have available to me and how did I ensure that I fully utilised these? What lessons did I apply from previous experience that served me well? What feedback mechanisms did I use? How did I sustain my motivation? What skills did I learn? What difference has this made to me now?

The answers to these questions will make up a framework for your action plan – and then you can plot your activities and plan for your success and achievements in 2011!

Learning how to model is core to NLP – what you decide is entirely up to you!

Miriam McCallum, McCallum Associates

About the Author

Dawn R

Member since: 9th July 2012

Working in the world of marketing and communications, I have a real passion for helping people and businesses become the best that they can be. And whilst working hard is of course important – I believe...

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