Using Goals For Motivation

Using Goals For Motivation


(by Edwin Locke and Gary Latham)



A goal is a purpose or an intention that serves two aims:
  • It defines what needs to be done.
  • It helps people focus their attention on information that is important to meet their goals. 


Any form of deliberate or a voluntary action is driven by a goal. For example – when you make your breakfast in the morning, you have to decide what you’re going to eat and how you will prepare it. This is goal setting.

To be shaped, every goal goes through two phases:

  • The deliberation phase – the process of choosing what goal to pursue
  • The Implementation phase – the process of choosing how to pursue the goal

The goal-setting theory provides guidelines on how to set goals so that you can maximize your goal attainment. There are four guidelines to follow:

  • Set specific goals – they lead to higher performance than vague or broad goals
  • Set challenging goals – a person needs to feel stimulated in order to be motivated. The goals need to be just above the current skill level of the tasked person. (but not much above)
  • Goal commitment – people usually commit to goals when they have set them themselves instead of goals being imposed on them by others. In cases of tasks given, let say be an employer, the task will be given from others, but the employee can be involved in a discussion of why and how.
  • Feedback receiving (both positive and negative) – Positive feedback could be even more motivating than monetary rewards. It informs the person not only that he or she is progressing, but more importantly about what he or she is doing right. That way it stimulates repeating behavior. Negative feedback, on the other hand, is a tricky thing. It should never focus on the lack of competence. It should be focused on behavior to be changed and how it should be changed.


The SMART Model of Goals Setting:


Setting goals using the SMART goals principle can help to create clear and specific goals that you are most likely to achieve. So what is a SMART goal? SMART stands for:

  • Specific – State exactly what you want to be accomplished (who, what, where, why).

Bad example: Improve incident reporting.

Good example: Everyone who writes an incident report needs to include more details, specifically in section 2.

  • Measurable – Measurable goals should include indicators of progress, such as the number of incidents.

Bad example: We will lower our number of incidents.

Good example: We will decrease the number of incidents by 30% in 2019, using 2018 as the baseline.

  • Achievable – Goals should be challenging, but attainable. Context, available resources, and constraints should all be considered when developing goals.

Bad example: Everyone needs to complete the new training program in the next two weeks.

Good example: Within the next six months, everyone will attend the new training program. We will use a staggered approach for attendance so that we are not short on staff.

  • Relevant – Relevant goals should consider how the goal ties in with team members’ responsibilities and how it aligns with other objectives.

Bad example: Update the evacuation procedures.

Good example: By the end of the week, update the department’s safety evacuation procedures to reflect our new location.

  • Timely – A timeline should be specified for goals. It should be realistic, not too far ahead, and not too tight.

Bad example: The training needs to be completed when you have time.

Good example: All employees will complete the training by December 1st, 2019.






Let’s assume you are the manager of a software company. Your team has a challenge upcoming (it could be a number of things: new client or a new feature that needs to be implemented, or even training that the owners of the company wanted the team to undergo). For the needs of the example, we will take the scenario where you have a new feature for development.
So, in order to properly set the goal so that the entire team (involved with the task)  could be at the same page, you will need to make the goal well-written and easy to understand.
  • First, you’ll need to clearly describe what is needed to be done. What will be the perfect end result – not as a feature but as a real value – the outcome? (For example, instead of saying something like “We need to create a Python script that does X and Y, using such and such framework and sourcing this and that, it’s better to describe the final result that is wanted and later ask your team to offer potential solutions, technologies, and approaches.)


  • The second most important thing – why. What is the need behind it, its purpose, and how it will serve it?


  • Finally, how. Here, it’s important to mention that you should MOST DEFINITELY involve your team with the “How part”. Ask them, hear them and – if proper – use their solutions or parts of them while strategizing. When setting each detail, make sure that the person offering the solution, owns it and will be responsible for it after. That means he must understand what is needed to do it, what will be expected and what is not “ok”. (all those should come from his mouth)


  • The KPIs or Key Performance Indicators should be set from the beginning. In other words – how would a job-done greatly will look like, measured in numbers – for ex. : If we could do it with only three team members, for 5 working days, with no more than 2K$ as an investment towards third parties and not more than two days of QA time it will be perfect. The project lead will be Jack The important part here is, that after once the KPIs are talked-over, you need to sit and write those down:
    • Time frame 5 workdays – when you set a specific time-frame you should take under consideration all important elements. Yes, this includes the client’s desires, but it also includes the physical dimensions and possibilities. (for ex. if your team already has their plates full with other tasks).
    • Deadline – Friday, 21.01.2019. A big mistake to avoid is to “believe your folks will manage to do it”. It is always better to ser extra time and finish early than set a good-to-have time frame and fail…
    • Development Responsible persons – Jack and Jones (When you pick the team members for the execution of the tasks keep in mind the “Challenging” rule. They need to have the skills to do the task but at the same time, it should be a small challenge for them. The task needs to be just above the current skill level so that they could learn while doing it. Another important thing is to consider – is what you ask of them aligned with their responsibilities? Is it in their field? For example, if you are tasking a back-end python developer to create a front-end javascript feature – yes he could probably do it, but is it what he does? Will he be happy with it? Is it something that he wants to learn to do? Keep in mind that when a person can do something, that doesn’t mean he will be motivated to do it. If you have options, you should most definitely think twice when picking whom to task with specific tasks.
    • Project Lead – Jack
    • Third Parties Budget 2000$ (for ex.: 1200$ for frameworks, 800$ for plugins)
    • The time frame for QA – 2 workdays
    • QA Responsible person – Nick
    • QA Deadline – Tuesday – 26.01.2019
    • After QA Finalization Deadline – Friday 29.01.2019


  • Next – you should make it your priority to measure the progress during the process and make adjustments if needed, provide feedback and guide your team through challenges they face. It is not to wait till the deadline to find out that some parts are not ready yet, you need to be there step by step. This could mean you meet the team each day for a progress update, or it could also mean you use some reporting system that helps you stay in the loop.


  • Providing feedback should be directly connected to the tasks performed, You, as a leader and a manager, need to give feedback for both – the good and the bad. The most common mistake with serious long-term consequences is not to tell a person when he’s done a good job. Doing so will guarantee you that he or she will understand what is the desired behavior that you aim at and will try to give it to you each time.

When talking about negative feedback – let’s say the person messed up with something, you shouldn’t focus on his lack of knowledge, but at what’s to be done now and in future so that the bad outcome could change.

This should be made in form of questions towards the person.

For example: “Do you think this is the result we agreed on?”

“Does it do such and such?”

“How can you approach the issue differently so that it does such and such?”

“What else could you do to improve the process?”

“Who you could turn to for further assistance?” Etc.

After the process is fixed, you need to use the case for a learning moment. It is the time when you make sure that a person learns from his mistakes. Again questions – “What did you learn from that? What will you do differently next time?” Take under consideration that without feedback, more often than not neither the company nor the team is evolving, developing and improving, ergo – your business is not growing…

Can you think of a person or organization, that could benefit from this? Share it with them…