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According to Jones and George's book "Contemporary Management" (2007), the goal-setting theory focuses on identifying the types of goals that are most effective in producing high levels of motivation and performance and explaining why goals have these effects. Each goal set forth by a person is a resemblance of what they are trying to accomplish through their actions and behaviors. Without one's efforts, their goals cannot be set or accomplished. The harder the specific goal to achieve, the more likely one would be motivated and dedicate their best performance to achieving the desired goal.

Details of Case

John, a member of the senior management staff at Lowe's, was given a Professional Development Plan (PDP), in order to maximize his potential as part of the management team of his store. The goal of the PDP was to ensure that the store was maintaining excellent customer service and improving company and store sales. The PDP would allow John to look at each individual section (self-development, department development, and store performance) to see where he needed to improve to achieve standards set forth by the Lowe's corporate office. The plan was built on goal-setting theory and included education on how to create S.M.A.R.T. goals to ensure focused changes could be implemented to improve the success of his store. Half-way through the year, John would report his status to his supervisors. If John was able to meet the goals he had established, new goals would be created. If the goals were not met by that time, a more in depth look would be taken to see what changes may be needed to be able to accomplish those goals.     

John realized that if his store was going to be successful, he would first need to take a look at himself to see if he was reaching his maximum potential. Therefore, John decided to first focus on self-development. He knew that the store would not run efficiently if he was not a successful manager. John knew through his years of being a manager that his crew relied on him for encouragement, attitudes, dependability, etc. John also knew that his employees' morale often reflected his own morale while at Lowe's. For each department to be successful, constant improvements needed to be made. John felt the success of each department would have a trickledown effect and enhance the success of the store. Lastly, John had to improve his customer service and store sales to make the store's overall performance better. Improving in these three areas would give his Lowe's store a more successful outlook.  


John began to research goal-setting theory and learned that for goals to be successful as motivators there are several factors that are necessary (Redmond, 2011).  First, there must be acceptance and commitment to the goal.  Second, the goals must be specific in their language and must be directly related to a specific end result.  Third, they must be difficult enough to pose a challenge but not too difficult that they cannot be achieved.  Fourth, there needs to be feedback on when and how the goal was achieved.  The acronym used in goal-setting theory to make certain that goals affect these four factors is S.M.A.R.T.  John now needs to develop S.M.A.R.T. goals to apply this theory to the self-development, department development, and the store performance sections of the Professional Development Plan. John learned that the S.M.A.R.T. acronym meant that his goals needed to meet the following criteria:


(Image Source Page: SMART)

As John continued to read more about each specific section of the S.M.A.R.T. goals, he decided to relate them to the way he felt about his current position and ways he can improve himself and his store to make his store better.

Self Development

First, John took a look at the two questions off of the PDP under self -development "What must I stop doing to be a more successful manager?" and "What must I continue to do well to be more successful?" Then he went to each specific category to see how he could relate that to the two questions.


With goal specificity, John, as a manager can give his employees some control in this area.  Different departments might have different, specific goals.  Specific goals would include: Increasing the sales of a certain department over last year's sales. (This information is available through weekly reporting of the company.); have a month pass with zero on-the-job injuries; higher rates of positive customer feedback; lower absenteeism/tardiness.  

By giving his employees the autonomy to set their own goals, John will "ensure that the goals are not unreasonable" (Redmond, 2011)


Through the sales monitoring, attendance, number (or lack of) on the job injuries and customer feedback are all measurable factors that could be measured within targeted goals.  When John applies his questions, he can determine the following:

"What must I stop doing to be a more successful manager?"

Through his measurements, he can see what areas might need to be addressed.  Actions he may need to stop are any scheduling habits that make it difficult for employees to be punctual or he might need to stop worrying about sales for a short period of time to address customer feedback.  When he addresses customer feedback, he may improve sales. By stopping certain things that might impede not only his performance but his employees' performance as well as sales outcome(s), he can be more successful.

"What must I continue to do well to be more successful?" 

John's can use measurements to compare his store's success with other stores and national benchmarks to identify areas that he is excelling in and he should evaluate each goal to make certain he will be able to continue to measure those items and make certain that he doesn't set new goals that would distract from current success areas. 


By giving his employees the freedom to set goals (and in turn would make him a more successful manager), he must find goals that can be reasonably be achieved.  While the employees may give him feedback on whether or not the goals are realistic, he must ensure that the goals are difficult but not too difficult that would cause a drop in commitment.  "When commitment to a difficult goal lapses, performance would be expected to level off or decrease" (Redmond, 2011).  He then can analyze their goals in order to set his goals and make them attainable.  He would help his employees set goals, and then set his own goals to become a better manager and give himself more motivation.  John will need to evaluate his own as well as his employee's competency in each area to make certain the goals set can be achieved.


As in the attainable part of the goal, letting his employees set realistic goals, John can in turn set realistic and attainable goals.  Although it is important for John to set himself a certain degree of difficulty in his goals to have a higher motivation and "higher the performance" (Redmond, 2011), it is also just as crucial that he is realistic.  By evaluating his goals on a month to month basis, he can visualize more realistic goals and more successful outcomes.


John's goals as well as the goals his employee's assist in setting must be related to a specific time-frame.  Setting goals within specific time frames also allows for periodic evaluation to see where he stands and how much further he needs to go, and what step is next.  If he applies the two questions ("What must I stop doing to be a more successful manager?" and "What must I continue to do well to be more successful?") to the timely aspect, he can evaluate and target a specific time frame that he must stop doing that is interfering with his success as well as what he should continue to do to be more successful.  

With feedback from customers as well as employees, he would be able to weed out what he might need to stop doing, what he needs to continue to do and ensure success in his goals

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Store Performance

John was to apply the S.M.A.R.T. theory concept to this part of the PDP and see what goals can be set to increase the performance of the Lowe's store he is in charge of managing.  The questions listed on the PDP under store performance included:"How can I improve overall store sales?" "How can I improve average ticket?" "What can I do to impact customer service?" and "What can I do to improve employee engagement?" He looked at each category to see how they could be defined using the S.M.A.R.T. theory.


John decided that he needed to give his employees a chance to be involved within the company to make them feel like part of the team. While research has not necessarily shown that employee improves motivation John decided that having the employees involved would give them a sense of belonging. He hoped that this sense of belonging would improve the morale of the employees and in turn improve customer service. John set himself a goal to have monthly team meetings where the staff could give input on ideas they may have to improve Lowe's. John set a goal to develop a program that would allow each employee to learn more about their department so that they could better assist customers and know what the customers want and need when shopping within his particular store.


John was taught that if a goal is not measurable, it cannot be achieved (Reis, 2010). This is why John was going to review the team meetings after three months to see if the employees were inputting any ideas they have and how successful it was at carrying out those ideas. He would also learn as each meeting went on if the employees felt like they had input, if more and more input was given as the meetings went on. The team that was in charge of putting together the program about each department would return to the same employees within three months to see if their knowledge of their department has improved as well.


In order for the goals to be attainable, they must be assigned to a specific person or group capable of achieving that goal. The team meetings were going to be assigned to John himself since he was in charge of all the employees and he knew the best ways to improve their morale and receive their inputs. He assigned the tasks of "department knowledge" to a team of ten people who would ensure that each department received the knowledge, training, and expertise in their department. 


The two main goals set forth for store performance were realistic because they could actually happen. They were not goals that would turn people away due to the lack of interest.


John set the time line to review each goal's progress in three months. This would allow him time to see if the goals were attainable or needed to be changed. John had a year to complete and work on the PDP. Allowing three months to see the progress would still give him ample time to change the goals if these specific goals were not working to improve the store performance.


                          A proven method of maximizing your success in setting and achieving goals is to set SMART goals.  

Department Development

The guidelines given to aid him in developing S.M.A.R.T. goals for department development were the questions: How can I improve Attachment Rates? How can I improve Shrink Loss? What can I do to improve Specialty Sales?


For the Department Development, John sets specific goals to be achieved.  The goals to be achieved include:

-Absenteeism and tardiness in each department to decrease by 50%. With documentation for those who violated the policy. 

-Positive customer feedback for each department to rise by 20%.

-Employee meeting attendance 100%. 

-Each department sales increase by 3-5% than previous "quarter" (previous three months.)


John will measure these Department Development goals as listed:

-Absenteeism/tardiness will be measured by counts of days absent, counts total hours tardy per department each month.

-Customer feedback measured as positive or negative every 4-8 weeks 

(Depending on amount of each individual department's amount of feedback)

-Meetings will be held once a quarter (3 months), attendance will be measured

Per department.  Meetings are important for communication between 

Departments and management.

-Departments' sales measured by, obviously their sales totals, and will be compared to last year's sales

same month, for sales growth.                                                                         


Through achievability, each department's goals will have the factor that John is comparing each department's sales, absenteeism, feedback, etc. rather than comparing them as total combined.  


Realistically, John has set attainable goals for the departments individually and as a whole.  By doing so, it will help him realistically achieve his goal of becoming a better supervisor.  Through his pragmatic goals and measurements, the department will have a very positive development as well as outcomes. 

John will be able to develop "project plans and implementation strategies consistent with departmental goals" (Indiana University) as well as be able to rationally "accomplish his goals "in a specified time frame," follow through and resolve "problems in a timely manner to keep project on track" (Indiana University). 


John will be able to "resolve problems in a timely manner to keep project on track" (Indiana University).  With his goals having a time-frame kept in mind (measurements per so many weeks, months, quarters, etc.), a timely execution of succeeding will be practicable as well as very possibly successful.  


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Applying Goal Setting Theory

Goal setting theory is probably the best supported theory of work motivation and one of the best-supported management theories overall.  Research convincingly shows that specific, difficult and employee accepted goals will lead to higher levels of performance than easy, vague, or nonexistent ones (Werner & DeSimone, 2009).  The basic premise of goal setting theory is that there is a positive linear relationship between a specific high goal and task performance (Latham & Locke, 2007).  In other words having a specific target goal will increase the level of performance, effort, and motivation in that employee.  The goal--performance relationship is strongest when people are committed to their goals (Locke & Latham, 2002). 

An organizational application of goal setting theory that is widely used is an intervention called Management by Objectives (MBO) which combines employee participation in the goal setting process with closely measured results toward achieving each specific goal. “In its broadest construction it is seen as a planning and control system which is designed to encourage self-control over an individual’s work while assuring that managers’ efforts are aligned with the overall organizational goals and priorities” (Poister & Streib, 1995)  The importance of participative goal setting has not been shown to significantly impact motivation.  “From a motivational perspective, an assigned goal is as effective as one that is set participatively provided that the purpose or rationale for the goal is given” (Locke & Latham, 2002).

In this case study Lowe's was using an MBO system as an approach to directing an organization through strategic goal setting.  They utilized a list of questions to direct their managers to the goals of the company and hoped this would guide their managers in developing goals to meet their overall objectives.  The specific questions contained within the PDP directed the manager to focus on three specific areas of development to target goal setting.  Self development, department development, and store development.  According to goal-setting theory The managers were then given the tools to develop goals that were SMART.


John has set himself up to succeed, the goal setting plan he has set forth will allow him to measure the success he is striving to achieve for the growth of his company. His S.M.A.R.T Goals meet the criteria that are needed to be successful. The challenges that John has set forth within his PDP urge his employees to work hard toward a goal and involve them on the decision making for improvements. In order to increase motivation the employees not only need to be allowed to participate in the goal setting but be challenged as well.  Not only has John requested his employees partake in the developing of the goals but they have made the goals clear and pointed.  Locke and Latham (2002) stated that the mangers who urge their employees just by asking them to “do their best” will not do so. They go on to state that individuals need to have a clear expectation of the goals at hand, in turn they will focus their efforts to accomplish these goals.

The Goal Setting Theory is becoming more of a norm in today's society. Larger companies are finding it useful to motivate their managers and teams to higher levels. It is a theory that is easy to use and easy to follow. With today's technology it makes the process very simple to follow, each company can set up email reminders to update you S.M.A.R.T Goals, they can provide you with the correct paperwork and supply the tools you may need to succeed in the position. The largest factor in being successful is the internal motivation that one has to succeed and follow the goals as they have set forth.

"Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude."

- Thomas Jefferson


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