The unintended consequences of motivational techniques

Gottfried Catania MSc
1. Personal and group introductions
2. Definition and theories of motivation
3. Goal setting theory – basic concepts
4. Goal setting theory – current research
directions and boundary conditions
5. Goal setting and unethical behaviour – the
hypotheses and practical importance
Educational experience
Brief occupational history and current
Any other relevant points
3 Components:
Direction – what a person is trying to do (choice)
Effort – how hard a person is trying (intensity)
Persistence – how long a person continues trying
Theory X – people cannot be trusted as they are
inherently unreliable and lazy. They are best
controlled by using threats and financial
Theory Y – people seek independence and selfdevelopment at work. They are fundamentally
moral and responsible and will naturally strive
towards the good of the organization.
Social – a person’s behaviour is influenced mostly
by social interactions – people seek meaningful
social interactions at work.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
Alderfer’s ERG theory
McClelland’s Need for Achievement
Vroom’s Expectancy Theory (VIE)
Adam’s Equity Theory
Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory and intrinsic
and extrinsic motivation
Hackman and Oldham’s Job Characteristics
Locke and Latham’s Goal Setting Theory
While the variety of theories may be confusing,
it is important to note that
1. each one has an important contribution to offer
2. in many cases they are compatible, but differ in
their emphasis
Locke and Latham (2004), amongst others, have
tried to integrate the different theories into one
model, and many practitioners use ideas from
the different models as relevant in different
Pioneered in the 1960s by Locke and associates,
and gained increasing empirical support up to date
By 1990s well over half of all empirical studies in
motivation reported in academic journals tested,
extended or refined this theory
Resulted in popular management concepts such as
Management by Objectives (MBO) and SMART
(Specific, Measurable, Agreed, Realistic, Time
Bound) goals
Basic premise –
Work performance is increased by specific
and challenging (but not impossible) goals.
Further research has uncovered a number of
moderators, i.e. factors which affect the direct
relationship between goals and performance.
These include:
Goal commitment
Goal importance
Task complexity
Rewards are also important motivators as they increase
satisfaction and goal commitment
This theory is not as straightforward in its
application, because of two main reasons:
People and circumstances vary, sometimes in
ways which affect the goal setting process
Application in complex settings may present
specific problems
Theory has been extensively validated in both
field and laboratory conditions, and over 90%
of research has shown support for its basic
concepts, making it one of the most valid
theories in psychology
Being an open theory, research is still being
conducted in refining the theory and its
In complex tasks, learning goals may be more
effective than performance goals
Goal commitment can be fostered by clear
communication about the goal, and enhanced by
participation in the goal setting process
Many times there are multiple goals to be achieved
If a goal is too large or far in the future, breaking it
up into more manageable smaller goals helps
Learning vs Performance goal orientation
Subconscious influences on goal setting
Boundary conditions of the theory – when is
goal setting likely to have unintended negative
Sears, Roebuck and Co – 1990s
Auto repair company set sales goals for its
repair staff of $147/hour, prompting staff to
overcharge for work and complete unnecessary
Enron - 1990s
Specific challenging goals fuelled rapid financial
success, but focusing on revenue rather than
profit drove the company bankrupt
General Motors – 2002
Market share in 2002 was 28.2%. Goal of reaching
29% was emphasized - strategies devised to
reach the goal disregarded potential negative
consequences (e.g. Interest free loans), money
was lost and the company went bankrupt
Making one focus so narrowly that one
overlooks other important features of the task
The presence of multiple goals inducing people
to focus on one goal at a time – which goal will
the person choose?
Goals and time horizons – focusing on short
term specific goals may harm the organization
in the long term
Strategies adopted to reach the challenging
goal may be riskier to the organization than
one would normally accept
Challenging goals may lead to unethical
behaviour, by
1. using unethical methods to reach the goal
2. misrepresentation of performance
Central idea –
people are not intrinsically evil, but breakdowns
in moral reasoning, sometimes arising from
organizational interventions and policies(such
as goal setting) may lead to immoral practices
1. Ethical recognition – employees attention
becomes so focused on the goal itself rather than
the means to attain it that they fail to consider
other aspects (e.g. Ethical implications)
2. Moral disengagement – using rationalizations
to justify their actions,
(a) linking deceit to worthy purposes
 (b) displacing responsibility onto others
Participative vs assigned goal setting
Personality and individual differences
Self efficacy and linking of goals to one’s self
Goal specificity
Goal difficulty
Structuring of rewards and their link to
Ambrose, M. L. and Kulik, C. T. (1999) Old friends, new faces:
Motivation research in the 1990s. Journal of Management, 25(3), 231292.
Barsky, A. (2008) Understanding the ethical cost of organizational
goal-setting: A review and theory development. Journal of Business
Ethics, 81, 63-81.
Latham, G. P. (2007) Work Motivation: History, Theory, Research and
Practice. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage.
Latham, G. P. and Pinder, C. C. (2005) Work motivation theory and
research at the dawn of the twenty-first century. Annual Review of
Psychology, 56, 485-516.
Locke, E. A. and Latham, G. P. (2002) Building a practically useful
theory of goal setting and task motivation – A 35 year odyssey.
American Psychologist, 57(9), 705-717.
Ordonez, L. D., Schweitzer, M. E., Galinsky, A. D. and Bazermann, M.
H. (2009) Goals gone wild: The systematic side effects of
overprescribing goal setting. Academy of Management Perspectives,
Feb 2009, 6-16 and related correspondence.
Schweitzer, M. E., Ordonez, L. and Douma, B. Goal setting as a
motivator of unethical behavior. Academy of Management Journal,
47(3), 422-432.
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