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Increasing Your Motivation: Locke's Goal Setting Theory

By Mei BeiNo Comments

Any strategy must include setting goals, and it is crucial to consider the strategic goals that should be placed throughout the organization. Many studies have been conducted to determine the best method for defining goals that will benefit both the organization and the individual employees. In order to ensure that support is given to best achieve the goals stated, Locke's goal setting theory, one of the foundations of goal setting strategies, explains five elements that make up proper goal setting. 

What is Goal Setting?

Goal setting is the process of establishing precise, doable objectives for any individual or group to accomplish desired results. It is a technique for inspiring employees that can assist them in comprehending business objectives, encourage them to take on challenges, and aid them to advance towards accomplishment. Process, performance, and outcomes goals are the three different categories of goals. 

Process Goals

Precise steps to carry out a task. An example would be setting a goal to spend two hours each day after supper cleaning the house. 

Performance Goals

Determined by one’s standard. Attempting to earn a 4.0 GPA for the following semester is one example. 

Outcome Goals

Based on the final results. Finding employment with the company of your choice or being given the opportunity to advance in the organisation are two examples.

Why Does Goal Setting Improve Performance?

Keep us focused and away from distractions 

Setting goals properly helps us focus on our goals and avoid any distractions that can cause us to lose sight of them. Therefore, having goals provides us with the responsibility and effort to obtain what we desire. For instance, if you want to secure 10 partners for your business, you might be preoccupied with other upcoming obligations. However, a clear path is set for you to follow if there is a good objective.

Motivation via rewards 

Goals are frequently linked to rewards and the satisfaction of reaching them. If good performance is seen at work, incentives or promotions could be rewarded, providing a sense of accomplishment when a goal is attained. According to Locke's goal setting theory, if we put in more effort, we can enjoy the benefits. Numerous challenges and issues may develop as the goals are being worked upon. Hence, Locke's goal-setting theory states, if you have a good goal-setting process, you should seek to go beyond those challenges to reach your objective.

Identifying potential

We all have untapped potential that has yet to be realised. Setting challenging goals will give us the confidence and motivation to attain them and push over our present limitations to realise our full potential. Finding out our true potential will enable us to accomplish as many objectives as we desire, enhancing our performance.

Background of Locke’s Goal Setting Theory

The goal setting theory was created by American psychologist Edwin A. Locke. This theory was introduced in the article “Toward a Theory of Task Motivation and Incentives” which he published in 1968. The article examined the connection between goals and task performance, showing how challenging and specific goals spur greater performance than general goals through a “do your best” attitude. In 1990, after the publication of the article, Locke collaborated with Dr. Gary Latham, a professor of organisational behaviour, to release the book “A Theory of Goal Setting and Task Performance”. This book delved into the goal-setting theory and provided a more thorough framework of the process. 

What is Locke’s Goal Setting Theory?

Locke’s goal setting theory, commonly known as the goal setting theory of motivation, establishes the relationship between the five principles of goals and the performance towards those goals. This theory has been proved by countless studies involved of thousands that it brings good improvements in the lives of people around the world. The theory suggests that productivity and motivation rise when one sets demanding goals and receives feedback on their development. These motivated employees would be better at achieving their intended objectives. Locke also found that specific goals were necessary for high and optimal performance while generic or ambiguous goals decrease motivation and performance. Understanding the relationship between how goal-setting affects work motivation and performance is the fundamental purpose of the goal-setting theory. With this knowledge, more support can be given to employees in achieving their goals more easily. Locke’s goal setting theory is seen as the foundation of SMART goals, another well-known goal setting framework. 

5 Elements of Locke’s Goal Setting Theory

Locke's Goal Setting Theory Elements


According to Loke’s goal setting theory, making goals clear will help make them more attainable. Setting goals with employees should be as specific as possible to reduce the likelihood of ambiguity, which can result in miscommunication or misunderstanding. A higher level of success follows from clear goals. In other words, precise and detailed objectives make for effective goals. Try to use measurements such as numbers or percentages rather than unclear wordings to ensure that your goals are clear. Perhaps, if you are working in a team, ask others if the content is clear or ask questions if you are not. The most common method to ensure clarity in goals is to utilize the SMART goals. 

  • Specific: Your goal should express what, why, and how you actually intend to achieve it.
  • Measurable: How much has been accomplished and how much remains.
  • Achievable: Unattainable objectives may make up for the wasted effort. Steer away from those objectives and instead set goals in which outcomes are clear. 
  • Relevant: You should be aware of the value of your goals for the organisation if you are setting them for any organisation. 
  • Time-Bound: A deadline should be set for the accomplishment of your goal.


Locke’s goal setting theory states, the more challenging the goals, the higher the likelihood that they will be achieved. Compared to common goals, challenging goals act as a motivator for the likelihood of success. It is vital to find the ideal level of difficulty for the goal. Goals must be challenging enough to feel accomplished once they are attained. However, they can not be too difficult that causing demotivation and giving up because they seem impossible to achieve.

Think about the following: 

  • Is it sufficiently ambitious or realistic? 
  • What benefits may one expect if they achieve? 
  • Can you incite friendly rivalry among team members?

How to set challenging goals?

  • Is achieving the goal too simple or much easier than you expect? If so, make sure to establish goals that are a little more challenging but not too challenging. 
  • If it is a team goal, set up a friendly competition among the team members and decide on any rewards. This encourages each team member to take on new tasks and push their personal boundaries. 
  • Consider the probable difficulties and obstacles that could derail your path and make a plan for how you're going to overcome them.


One must be committed to their goals in order to be motivated and attain them. Make sure the objectives are ones that you are dedicated to reaching. If a goal is being set for the team, every team member should concur with the goal. A committed goal is one that you and your team members both agree to work toward, rather than one that you impose work demands on the team. That is what Locke's theory of goal-setting asserted on dedication to goals. They are very unlikely to reach their full potential and accomplish their objectives if they are not devoted.

There are certain important elements to keep in mind when involving an entire team to the goal:

  • Explain why this objective is vital
  • Make sure everyone thinks they can succeed in achieving the goal
  • Include the team in the development of goals
  • Share the benefit of achieving the objective


Locke’s goal setting theory suggests, paying attention to feedback and planning the goals appropriately is vital for the goal setting process. This will provide valuable insights into the team’s current well-being and outlook on future success. Employees require regular feedback in order to achieve their goals. Feedback on their progress, what is going well, and areas for improvement are all included. Regularly receiving both constructive and unfavourable comments is necessary as well. 

Utilizing feedback: 

  • Periodic meetings should be planned in order to track progress and offer assistance as needed.
  • Examine your prior progress and request for their opinion. 
  • Utilize software or resources you are familiar with to gather feedback in an organised manner. 
  • Consider dividing a goal into smaller ones if it is not working out.


One of the main considerations in defining goals is task complexity. It will be challenging to accomplish the aim if it is overly complicated. If a goal is too complex or overwhelming, it may have a detrimental effect on motivation. Instead, divide big ambitious goals into smaller and easier-to-handle duties. Each small task finished will provide a motivational boost. Locke’s goal setting theory finds that individuals must also be realistic and provide themselves enough time to understand those complex tasks. 

Advice on task complicity:

  • Give tasks the appropriate length of time to complete them. 
  • Divide highly ambitious goals into smaller, more manageable aims. 
  • Avoid overwhelming one person with all the objectives. 
  • Maintain awareness through updates and progress reports.

Example of Locke’s Goal Setting Theory

Onboarding sessions 

Your organisation recently employed a new business analyst who appeared to have a ton of promise for growth and success. Giving the new employee a general objective such as “get settled in your new position” would not inspire them to work hard. It may leave them perplexed and cause unclear directions they should be working towards. Instead, use the goal setting method and put up a set of challenging but clear goals to assist them in realising their full potential. "Learn the programme and read the required documents for your position within the first 30 days" may be a clear goal. This can be further divided into smaller sections, “complete onboarding”, “learn how to build an analytics report” or “learn how to conduct business process research”. 

Team projects 

If the team is assigned a new project, motivation must be given in order for them to work hard on it. Be more specific with the goal rather than stating that you want the project to be accomplished as quickly as feasible. What does "as soon as feasible" mean exactly? The goal can be adjusted to "complete the project by the end of this month." Along with this goal, it is critical to explain the necessity of the deadline and the significance of completing the job by the end of this month. Then, divide that up into assignments for each team member, schedule time to collaborate on the project with the team, and offer feedback as it progresses.

Advantages of Locke’s Goal Setting Theory

Increases engagement & performance

This framework can aid employees in achieving their goals. Higher levels of employee engagement and job satisfaction may result from that achievement. Employee performance and productivity rise when goals are consistently attained. Additionally, employees might be more effective to complete tasks within the allotted time.

Obedient to deadlines 

Measurable goals are encouraged by the goal setting theory. Employees may become better at completing tasks within deadlines with this theory. It may also help employees in adhering to goals and KPIs more effectively.

Feedback practices 

A feedback culture is supported by the goal setting theory. Employees can use these insights to keep getting better. 


Employees get more confident when they consistently achieve their goals. This confidence influences self-efficacy and improved self-regulation. Locke’s theory encourages that with ongoing constructive feedback, valuable understanding of one’s unique strengths and flaws can be discovered.

Clear direction 

Making a future plan is a necessary component of meaningful goal setting. Without direction, neither employees nor the organization can clearly define what success looks like.


Locke's goal setting theory holds the key to ensuring a highly motivated workforce and organisation. According to Locke's goals setting theory, if you create challenging goals and give appropriate feedback, your motivation to reach your objectives will be higher. It proves that setting concise goals is associated with excellent performance. Setting vague goals, on the other hand, is linked to poor performance. By applying this idea of motivation, you and your organisation can achieve high performance, a better work ethic, increased productivity, and clear direction.


What Is Goal Setting Theory?

Five Principles of Goal Setting Theory

Goal Setting Theory And Task Performance

Advantages Of Goal Setting Theory

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