The purpose of this paper is to explore why objective setting is often found difficult and consider what to do about it. The paper critically assesses the two main managerial perspectives on objective setting before summarising evidence-based research on what works. Based on this literature review, the paper develops a contingency model of objective setting. It then describes how to use this model in practice.
The paper uses a review of the managerial and evidence-based literature on objective setting to develop a contingency model of objective setting. It describes how this model is operationalised by developing a scale to measure the differences between jobs and the situations they operate in. The model is represented diagramatically. Guidance is given on how to use the model in practice.
Result-centred and process-centred approaches to objective setting are described and critically assessed. Evidence-based research describing the relationship between objective setting and performance is also presented. In general, clear and specific goals that are challenging but realistic have a moderate effect on performance. However, this only holds for straightforward and predictable tasks. When prior knowledge is needed to perform a task or when the task is complex, a general goal, behavioural goal or learning goal is more effective. Parallels between the managerial perspectives and the contrasting situations form the basis of a contingency model of objective setting.
The relevant theory is described and critically examined. This provides useful descriptions of two different ways to go about setting objectives. The conclusions of recent studies and reviews using evidence-based research are described. They establish both what works and when it works. Taken together, these insights provide a foundation on which to develop a contingency model of objective setting.
There is no one right way to set objectives. Different situations require different approaches. It is possible to assess situations and establish the appropriate combination of perspectives. It is then possible to develop an appropriate set of objectives for the situation. Guidance is given on how to use this approach in practice. The overall approach is rooted in theory and evidence-based research.
The application of this model in the workplace can help individuals to perform more effectively. It can also help line managers, learning and development specialists, and human resource professionals to help individuals to perform more effectively. In so doing, the model helps organisations to function more effectively. This has wider implications for the economy and society.
The paper is original in that it brings together both management theory and evidence-based research to develop a contingency model of objective setting. This model as a whole and the method of assessing job characteristics are original.
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