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Setting Goals that Inspire High Team Performance

Goal clarity is critical for teams to proceed on their common mission, but cut and dried goals that provide task direction but no challenge or performance criteria normally will not produce the desired results. Goals are a major factor in motivation. Let’s study a well know theory called the Goal-setting theory proposed by Dr. Edwin A. Locke.

Goal-Setting Theory

The basic principle in this theory is:

Goals that are specific have the potential to increase performance. Difficult to achieve goals, when accepted, have the potential to generate a much higher level of performance than easy goals.

When a person or a team takes on a tough challenge they tend to rise to the occasion and deliver a performance that corresponds to the challenge in the task.

In a Nut Shell:
  • Goals have to be specific, not general
  • Goals have to be challenging, yet realistic

Let’s try and understand this theory better. It implies that a generalized goal that says ‘do your best’ is just not good enough to fire up and energize the team performance. ‘Do your best’ is the kind of thing a parent would say to a child who is off to school to write an exam. Parents normally would not want to pressurise their children by making specific statements like ‘you must get the highest marks in your Class’. In a professional environment involving teams, the exact opposite will work in generating a good performance! Teams that are given general guidelines and asked to ‘do your best’, are unlikely to succeed. A high team performance is a lot more probable when the goals are specific and present a challenge that is perceived to be realistic and attainable by the team.

Performance Orientation

Now, let’s take the goal-setting theory one step further and look at ‘goals that inspire a high team performance’. This means, goals have to be not only specific and challenging but also inspiring and performance oriented if they are to create high performance. So, what do we mean by performance orientation?

When a team sets out on a common mission, they need a clear understanding of the results expected of them. The task has to have certain performance benchmarks associated with it. That’s when teams are challenged to go after performance excellence. Any team setting out on a task will do better when the results and performance expected of them takes centre stage. Performance orientation is the use of goal setting to link team goals to organisation performance. Performance orientation with an eye on business results has the potential to deliver far better results from a team.

Let’s say that a team is presented with a task, and given specific tough goals that test their skills to the maximum. At the same time the goals are defined in such a way that they inspire and energise the team effort because of the customer focus inherent in them. When teams see their mission as important in helping the organisation address its customer challenges, it has the potential to create a better performance oriented work ethic. Performance orientation factors in the business results expected from the team and calls for a greater degree of effort and involvement in achieving results.

Click to view Goal-setting examples

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