Management Planning And Goal Setting As Change
Gary Latham, Alana Arshoff
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 September 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 September 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846740-0020


Goal-setting theory, developed in 1990 by Edwin Locke and Gary Latham, states that individuals who set specific, difficult goals perform significantly better than those who have an easy goal, do not have a goal, or have a vague goal such as to “do their best.” The theory is based on more than a thousand studies conducted in eight countries, on eighty-eight different tasks, both in laboratory and field settings, for time spans ranging from one minute to twenty-five years, where goals were assigned, self-set, or set participatively. Goal setting leads to high performance for at least four reasons. First, it reflects an individual’s choice as to the focus of the person’s attention. Second, it regulates effort—people expend greater effort in pursuing a specific, challenging goal than they do on an easy or vague one. Third, it increases an individual’s persistence until a goal is attained. Fourth, because the goal is challenging, it prompts an individual to draw on extant strategies or to develop a plan on ways to attain it.

General Overviews

Goal-setting theory is pervasive in the literature on organizational behavior and human resources. In Locke and Latham 2013, the authors and their colleagues describe the details of the theory as well as the most-recent research in this domain. A number of empirical studies have revealed the necessity for planning and goal setting. Latham and Baldes 1975 descried how specific high goals resulted in unionized drivers devising plans to attain their goal of attaining the maximum legal truck weight. Latham and Saari 1982 found that union acceptance is important for a productivity improvement intervention. Once the union accepted the goal-setting intervention, the drivers began planning immediately on ways to attain their productivity goal. Earley, et al. 1987 conducted two laboratory experiments that examined the effects of assigned goals and task information on performance, effort, persistence, and planning. Earley and Perry 1987 conducted a similar study. Lastly, Smith, et al. 1990, in a simulation, measured two aspects of planning; namely, time and quality with regard to goal setting.

  • Earley, P. Christopher, and Brian C. Perry. “Work Plan Availability and Performance: An Assessment of Task Strategy Priming on Subsequent Task Completion.” Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 39.3 (1987): 279–302.

    DOI: 10.1016/0749-5978(87)90025-2

    The authors conducted two laboratory experiments to examine the relationship between planning and goal setting on performance. The participants who were given a specific, difficult goal not only engaged in more task planning, they developed more-complex plans than those in the control group. Performance on the task was dependent on the quality of the plan developed as a result of pursuing the goal.

  • Earley, P. Christopher, Pauline Wojnaroski, and William Prest. “Task Planning and Energy Expended: An Exploration of How Goals Influence Performance.” Journal of Applied Psychology 72.1 (1987): 107–114.

    DOI: 10.1037/0021-9010.72.1.107

    Two laboratory experiments revealed that specific, difficult goals lead individuals to plan a course of action to attain the goal. This did not occur when people were told to do their best.

  • Latham, Gary P., and J. James Baldes. “The “Practical Significance” of Locke’s Theory of Goal Setting.” Journal of Applied Psychology 60.1 (1975): 122–124.

    DOI: 10.1037/h0076354

    Data were collected on the weight of logging trucks over twelve months. The truck drivers had not been loading their trucks to the maximum legal weight. Thus, this goal, maximum legal truck weight, was assigned to the drivers. Performance improved immediately because the drivers created plans. The same increase in performance, without the goal-setting intervention, would have required an expenditure of a quarter of a million dollars.

  • Latham, Gary P., and Lise M. Saari. “The Importance of Union Acceptance for Productivity Improvement through Goal Setting.” Personnel Psychology 35.4 (1982): 781–787.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1744-6570.1982.tb02221.x

    The importance of union acceptance for a productivity improvement intervention is explained. After the program was approved by the union, the truck drivers began planning ways to attain their goal, and they used their radios to coordinate their efforts. The result was a significant increase in productivity as measured by the increase in number of trips per truck per day.

  • Locke, Edwin A., and Gary P. Latham. A Theory of Goal Setting and Task Performance. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1990.

    The inductive process of developing goal-setting theory, as well as the central propositions, mediators, and moderators, is discussed. Planning is one of four mediators that explain the positive effect that a specific high goal has on job performance.

  • Locke, Edwin A., and Gary P. Latham, eds. New Developments in Goal Setting and Task Performance. New York: Routledge Academic, 2013.

    The authors of the chapters written specifically for this book describe research conducted subsequent to Locke and Latham 1990. Topics include mediators and moderators of goal setting, affect, self-efficacy, self-regulation, multiple goals, learning goals, team groups, human resources, culture, priming goals in the subconscious, entrepreneurship, creativity, leadership, athletics, negotiations, health and pitfalls of goal setting. Planning is shown to be a mediator.

  • Smith, Ken G., Edwin A. Locke, and David Barry. “Goal Setting, Planning, and Organizational Performance: An Experimental Simulation.” Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 46.1 (1990): 118–134.

    DOI: 10.1016/0749-5978(90)90025-5

    An experimental simulation revealed that setting specific, high organizational goals is positively related to the quality of the plans created and subsequent organizational performance. The amount of time spent on planning correlated positively with performance when the quality of planning was high. It correlated negatively with performance when the quality of planning was poor.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.