Understanding Locke and Latham’s 5 principles of goal-setting

Understanding Locke and Latham’s 5 principles of goal-setting

While all companies try & put a lot of efforts in achieving the set goals, very few actually invest in setting the right ones.

Goal setting is a powerful tool that can be used to motivate and challenge employees, towards achieving the company’s strategic targets. However, there is a right way and a wrong way to go about setting up goals. Well set goals are clear and you can objectively determine whether or not the goal has been reached. Poorly set goals are not clear and you can’t always tell what it will look like once the goal has been achieved. The latter results in frustration and lack of effectiveness.

In the late 1960s, Dr. Edwin Locke and Dr. Gary Latham performed much of the research that has informed our theories of goal-setting, showing how goals and feedback can be huge motivating factors for employees.Through their research, Locke and Latham settled on the five principles of goal-setting.

The 5 principles of goal setting are:

Clarity – Setting clear and precise goals

A clear goal is one that can be measured and leaves no room for misunderstanding. Goals should be very explicit regarding what outcome is desired and how will it be measured. Similar to SMART goal-setting principle, clear goals should help with understanding the task at hand, measuring the results and achieving success.

Clear: Adopt new technology to reduce time required to manufacture product from 15 mins to 12 mins by end of financial year.

Unclear: Reduce time required to manufacture product.

Challenging goals – Raise the stakes

Setting challenging goals requires a careful balance to ensure the right degree of challenge. Goals that are either too easy or too difficult negatively affect motivation and decrease performance. The highest level of motivation is achieved when goals are somewhere between easy and difficult.

When you next set goals ensure they are challenging yet realistic, difficult yet attainable. When setting goals ask yourself. Are they challenging enough? Are they big enough to be motivating? Are they realistic and attainable?

Challenging: Convert 70% more prospects to customers in Q3 FY 2017-18 as compared to Q2 FY 2017-18

Easily achievable: Convert more prospects to customers in Q3 FY 2017-18 as compared to Q2 FY 2017-18

OKR methodology, one of the most popular goal setting framework, emphasizes on setting challenging goals so that employees are motivated to give their best every time. It is one of the key reasons the methodology has proven to be successful.

Commitment – Rational as well as emotional

Whether you are setting a goal for yourself, your employees, teammates, or whoever else, in order to accomplish your goals, you must first fully understand and agree to them. Often times, particularly in a team setting, people are more likely to work harder for a goal if they have had some hand in setting it. As long as the goal is actually achievable, and consistent with the aspirations of everyone involved, you should have no problem in staying motivated to reach the end.

Correct: Project manager and his or her team engineer decide the expected outcome in a meeting depending on the subordinate’s capability

Incorrect: Project manager dictates goals to all his or her team members without considering their bandwidth and capabilities

Feedback – Determine your progress

In addition to selecting the right goal, you should also listen to feedback in order to determine how well you’re doing. This allows you to adjust the goal and your approach in reaching it. Feedback doesn’t necessarily have to come from other people. It can come from self-judgment as well.

Correct: Check-in weekly to monitor progress of the design department and give feedback about whether they are on track or need to expedite the process.

Incorrect: Set a deadline and forget about the task till this deadline approaches.

Task Complexity – Don’t exceed beyond a limit

Be careful in adding too much complexity to your goals as complexity can impact morale, productivity and motivation. Highly complex goals can become overwhelming for people. For such goals, people need to be provided sufficient time to work toward the goal, improve performance, practice, or learn what is necessary for success. Reassess the complexity and difficulty of your goal and modify it. If necessary, break your goal into smaller sub-goals and/or decrease the difficulty of the goal.

Correct: For sales, break down the target and distribute it among all salespersons as per their capability to make sure they collectively achieve it within a particular time.

Incorrect: Assign the entire target to one salesperson and expect it to be completed within a specific duration


Lack of accomplishment of goals leads to job dissatisfaction. Thus Goal Setting Theory can be useful in predicting job satisfaction and subsequently employee engagement. Job satisfaction is an important attribute for employee productivity and commitment to the organization. Goal setting is just like any other skill and so it takes practice to become good at setting and achieving goals. By applying these five research based principles you will considerably increase the chances of achieving your goals.