Research on Goal Management

Yes, I am a goal nerd. Proud of it. As researchers, Jennifer and I regularly search the literature for emerging data related to goal setting and behavior change. My musings this month were inspired by a research article I read recently, studying the consequences of goal failure. There is substantial research linking the use of challenging, SMART goal setting to improve performance and increase motivation, but less is known about the failure to meet those goals. Goals play a key role in measuring competence, completion of key performance indicators, and program/organizational goals that determine success or failure. An organization’s success can hinge on effective goal management.

What are the negative consequences both to the individual and an organization when goals are not met? Failing goals leads to reduced productivity, increased absenteeism, and future underachievement. For the individual, goal failure can lead to lower self-esteem and motivation. This is bad news for all of us in an organization. It’s crucial that we choose effective goals at the just-right challenge level and provide ongoing support to maximize success.

Research supports the importance of goal mentoring and monitoring and ensuring recognition of achievement at all levels of attainment. Using goal scaling methodology, even incremental progress towards a goal is quantified and can be positively reinforced, further incentivizing higher levels of goal achievement.

So, it’s not enough to have goals. They need to be SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and with clear target dates. But SMART goals aren’t enough either. The success or failure limitation of typical goals has not worked, unlike scaled goals which captures the full range of potential outcomes for a given goal. But that’s still not enough. Goal progress needs monitoring and support, to ensure successful completion. It’s a pretty tall order to provide that structure and collect and analyze the data in real time to guide your goal management. Luckily, we goal nerds love a challenge. We’ve got you covered, all in one app that does the heavy lifting for you. Check us out.

Hopfner, J. & Keith, N. (2021). Goal missed, self hit: Goal-setting, goal-failure, and their affective, motivational, and behavioral consequences. Frontiers in Psychology, 12, 704790.