Setting goals involves establishing specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-targeted (S.M.A.R.T. ) benchmarks for results. Work on the theory of goal-setting suggests that it's an effective tool for making progress because participants in a group with a common goal are clearly aware of what is expected from them. On a personal level, setting goals helps people work toward their own objectives, which are most commonly financial or career-based goals .
Elements of Goal-Setting
Setting goals affects outcomes in four ways: by improving choice, effort, persistence, and cognition . By choice, we mean that goals narrow attention and direct efforts to goal-relevant activities, and away from perceived undesirable and goal-irrelevant actions. Secondly, goals can lead to more effort. For example, if a person typically produces four widgets an hour, and sets the goal of producing six, he may work more intensely toward the goal . Third, through improved persistence, someone becomes more prone to work through setbacks when pursuing a goal. Finally, by cognition, we mean that goals can lead individuals to develop and change their behavior.
Goal setting and achievement
Athletes set goals during the training process. Through choice, effort, persistence, and cognition, they can prepare to compete.
The enhancement of performance through goals requires feedback. Goal setting and feedback go hand in hand, for without feedback, goal setting is unlikely to work. Providing feedback on short-term objectives helps to sustain motivation and commitment to a goal. Feedback should also be provided on the strategies followed to achieve the goals and the final outcomes achieved as well. Goal-setting may have little effect if individuals can't see the results of their performance in relation to the goal.
Studies in Goal-Setting
The first empirical studies were performed by Cecil Alec Mace in 1935. Later in the mid-1960s, Edwin A. Locke began to examine goal setting, a topic he continued to explore for thirty years. He concluded that 90% of laboratory and field studies involving specific and challenging goals led to higher performance than did easy goals or no goals at all.