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The science of goals.


In the 1950's and 1960's the study of motivation in North American psychology was not considered a respectable pursuit. For many years, it was commonly thought that motivation lied outside of the subject (you) with some outside influencer (a book, an event, a coach). Times changed, drive reduction theory was introduced, and motivation is now viewed as primarily physiological.

Goal-setting theory now tells us that conscious goals affect action. In a study, “Building a Practically Useful Theory of Goal Setting and Task Motivation: A 35-Year Odyssey” (Locke/Latham), the pair makes several useful arguments related to goal setting theory. They argue that, “in organizational settings, the organization’s goal and the goal of the individual manager are sometimes in conflict”. Their research goes on to suggest that “goal conflict undermines performance if it motivates incompatible action tendencies”. In other words, employees may find themselves more motivated to achieve personal goals vs. corporate objectives, leading to poor performance for both sides. You caught that right. Research suggests that both sides suffer.

How can we create better alignment?

Our work suggests that open conversation about personal whys with employees actually enhances desire to achieve. Done effectively, an employee begins to see the link between what THEY want to achieve in life, and what the organization desires from staff. Goal-setting can actually be integrated between both parties, eliminating what Locke and Latham term – “incompatible action tendencies”.

Amazing, right? So why isn’t every corporation re-organizing their HR department?

It’s all caused by the following:

1. Lack of Awareness

Many companies and organizations just aren’t aware of this symbiotic relationship. They continue to operate in an era where performance management reviews reigned, and goals/objectives followed the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time Bound) structure.

This has become a dated approach for many reasons. Our information revolution has resulted in technology changes that have revolutionized how and where we do work. Do you find it hard to unplug after you get home from the job? Many of us do. And now, more than ever, it might be expected that we stay connected by mobile device after hours. With shifts like these, shouldn’t we be doing a better job of integrating what we hope to achieve in our personal lives with what our employer is asking of us?

2. Training resources are in short supply

As a business group, let’s say you can convince yourself that this might work. How the heck do you go about implementing it? If you’re a small business, you might not have an HR department. Even if you work in the HR department and you’re convinced by this idea, convincing others to subscribe to the concept takes time.

If you have influence over the group, you might stand a chance, but the time required to introduce the idea, nurture it, and care for it can be consuming. While not impossible to internalize, many groups can’t or won’t commit the resources to such an objective.

3. Poor commitment to the process

Think back to point #1. What if you found an employer that not only recognized the need to marry personal and professional goals, but they committed long-term to this style? Employee retention would skyrocket. Culture would improve. People would engage with each other about these objectives.

Here lies the opportunity for most. Change one of the core beliefs that drives your business and you become unique. People are drawn to participate with you because it’s what they crave. Science proves it.

The next time you have a management retreat, a staff meeting, or even a conversation at work; try bringing up the concept of aligning personal and corporate objectives.

We promise it will position you on the leading edge of motivation theory.

Remember, its science.

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