Friday, March 20, 2009

Motivating Employees through Goal Setting

Currently at work we are setting our personal objectives for 2009. Employee goals are often overlooked or underutilized. While goal setting can be viewed cynically I personally feel goal setting is the most effective means of employee motivation which is critical for performance. I thought I would take a moment to share some thoughts regarding goal setting and specifically how goals motivate employees towards performance. First the principle based largely on Vroom's expectancy model combined with some great insight from a professor of mine :

Employees are productive when they have the necessary support, proper abilities, and motivation. We will look at each component individually:
  1. Support: Do your employees have appropriate resources to be productive? Is there enough time, money, and equipment to perform the tasks? Asking a lumberjack to drop a tree would be impossible if given only a pocketknife. Equally import is the employees perception of support, does that employee believe he possess required support (software, hardware, access, etc)?
  2. Ability: Is the level of required performance within the ability of the performer? Is the goal honestly attainable by the employee or are you expecting a level of unattainable performance? It is not reasonable to assign the human genome project to the office secretary.
  3. Motivation: An employee with abundant support and dazzling ability with do very little unless motivated. There are many models and theories regarding motivation ranging from financial, social, relational, etc. I am convinced goals are the most effective means for motivation
Next we will explore motivation through goal setting. Gary Lathham in The blackwell Handbook of Principles of Organizational Behaviour discusses the theory of goal setting stating "the simplest most direct motivational explanation of why people perform better than others is because they have different performance goals." Motivation can be broken down into three necessary components:
  1. Expectancy - If I work, I will succeed. Also called self-efficacy, this is a belief held by the employee that they can accomplish the goal. A lack of expectancy can be addressed in multiple ways such as enactive mastery (progressive small goals to build confidence), modeling (matching the employee with a role model), or peer motivation (co-workers can accomplish the tasks).
  2. Instrumentality - There is some reward. This reward does not have to be financial compensation but rather could be recognition, a successful project launch, a promotion, Winning the presidents acknowledgment award for increasing revenue, etc.
  3. Valence - A belief held by the employee that the reward is worth it.
An employee must feel that a goal is within their reach, carries a reward, and that reward is of value. Remove any one of these three variables and you are left with a demotivated employee. Recycling is easy, it saves 10 trees, but I don't care. No motivation.

Superior performance is achieved when support and ability is pared with a high level of motivation. Motivation alone without actual ability or support leads to frustrated employee. Similarly support and motivation without ability is a chasing after the wind.

Do you agree?