Two of the best-known academic researchers on goal setting, Edwin A. Locke and Gary P. Latham, summarized 35 years of empirical research on goal-setting theory in an article in American Psychologist. Their findings can help you set achievable goals to push yourself or motivate your agents.
Difficult goals produce better performance
Locke and Latham found that setting specific, difficult goals consistently led to higher performance than urging people to do their best. And performance only leveled off or decreased when the limits of a person’s ability were reached or the commitment to the goal ended. For example, your goals for lead generation should include a number you’ll hit in a certain duration, which will stretch your abilities.
Don’t leave goals ambiguous
Reducing the ambiguity about what counts as meeting the goal makes measuring performance easier. Instead of the imprecise goal to put more effort into lead generation, set a number of calls or presentations you will make.
Set learning goals when confronted with a complex problem
Learning goals are specific, challenging goals for researching or creating strategies for how to tackle the overall problem. For example, if you want to close a set number of commercial transactions next year, first set learning goals for what skills or expertise you may need to improve upon to get you there.
Whether the goal is assigned or collaborative, what matters is information
Research doesn’t show a strong link between performance and whether a goal is assigned or generated collaboratively—except when a goal is assigned without much explanation. Exchanging information and strategies is what affects performance, regardless of how the goal is assigned. Have a conversation about goals where you can pass along information or ask questions.
Making goals public lends them importance
People perform best when they’re committed to their goals, and making the commitment in a public way strengthens that commitment. This is most important when goals are difficult and will require a high level of effort to achieve. Consider talking about your goals during group meetings or speaking with peers or supervisors who can hold you accountable.