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“If you can’t describe what you’re doing as a process, you don’t know what you’re doing.” -W. Edwards Deming

Goals. The end game. The objective. The light at the end of the tunnel. It’s hardly a secret that Goal-Setting Theory is among the most popular of motivational theories to date. The theory is going strong in facets of almost every major business throughout the U.S. The desire to succeed being what it is in America, nearly everyone has a benchmark that they would be proud to tell others about. The goals are as varied and as ranging in grandeur as can be; some people want security; others, prestige. Some people want to be famous and well-known, while still others simply want to seek their own fulfillment quietly, without great fanfare.

That all being the case, no matter who someone is, what they do, or how they see the world, they have something in common with every other person (or at least nearly so) they will ever meet: Goals.

Case Study

“Pressure… pushin’ down on me, pushin’ down on you…” -Freddie Mercury

For consideration of how to properly set goals, let’s consider Logan; Logan is a business major at Penn State, with big goals and even bigger dreams.

Logan’s goal is to someday become a major executive for a Fortune 500 Company. He would like to be interviewed by Forbes, Time, and potentially the Wall Street Journal, along with the occasional photo-shoot and breakfast interview with some softer titles. This being the case, Logan knows that there are several steps he will have to fulfill in order to reach his ultimate goal. The best way to achieve this is by setting goals to measure those steps out accurately, which will ensure that attention does not waver from the endgame.

First, Logan must finish his B.S. of Business with a high Grade Point Average, or GPA, since he will need to be a high performer from here on out. This will allow him, through merit of score, to apply for more specialized programs, such as a Master's degree, which will further prepare him to take charge of a well-known successful business, and make it even more successful than before.

Beyond using a high GPA to apply for graduate schools, a high number on the scale ought to reflect that the student has learned the material well and hasn’t simply cruised through, waiting for it all to be over. Grades are important to Logan, and he will do his very best, since his future goal depends on it.

Taking the right courses is very important. Grade Point Average means very little when the coursework taken consists of basket-weaving and interpretive dance. Not that there’s anything wrong with either of those things as hobbies, but as college majors? Just say no. Taking the right classes, carefully chosen based on his degree needs, will help prepare Logan for the next step along his path.

Preparing for exams will be a critical part of Logan’s goals. He’ll want to get accepted into as prestigious a school for his post-graduate education as he can feasibly afford, so he’ll need to score very well on the entrance exams. While confident in his test taking abilities, it will be critical for Logan to set aside time to test and study on a regular basis, in addition to the work he already does, to the end of ensuring maximum school placement by scoring very highly on the exam.

Eventually, Logan will need to apply for jobs. He’ll need to earn his way into positions where his successes can be celebrated, and where he can have a lot of them, for his ultimate goal of becoming a major executive to shine. His work is definitely cut out for him; but with the right support team, the right friends, and the right dedication and determination of will, Logan the CEO is well within reach.


Upon deciding to accomplish these lofty goals, Logan needed to put together a plan in order to complete his goals.  With the help of his adviser, he wanted to set up milestones to ensure that he was moving along in his endeavor.  The adviser suggested to develop specific goals to enhance performance.  The adviser settled on using S.M.A.R.T. goals.  The adviser has learned that “individuals will be more motivated when they are committed to specific, difficult goals and when feedback about progress toward those goals is offered” (PSU, 2016). The adviser and Logan developed goal conditions:

Goal Acceptance/Commitment: First, Logan needs to accept the goal that he is reaching for and commit to it wholeheartedly. If he does not believe that any one of his goals is attainable or too difficult, Logan won’t even be able to start his journey.

Goal Specificity: Next, Logan will need to know the exact goals that he is establishing.  If the goals are too basic or vague, he may not excel as well as he normally would if the goals are detailed and specific.  

Goal Difficulty: Third, the goals must have a certain level of difficulty to keep Logan engaged.  If the goals are too easy, he may not perform to best of his ability, which might allow him to lose focus.  The result of this action can have implications down the road when his goals become harder and Logan lacks the effort needed to complete these goals.

Feedback: Lastly, feedback is important for Logan so that he understands how well or poorly he is performing.  Logan will need specific feedback in order to know whether or not he is meeting the expectations of those around him.  If the feedback is not specific enough, Logan may be missing out on vital information that could enhance his performance.

In order to give a specific example of what Logan will need to do to attain his goals, the adviser introduced S.M.A.R.T. goals, and Logan developed a plan to achieve a Master of Business Administration. The plan consists of having Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic and Time-Related goals (Grantham, 2016).

Specific: The specific goal for Logan is to complete an MBA at Pennsylvania State University and finish the program at the top of his class.  Logan has many other goals, but he knows that he needs to complete this specific goal before he can move on to the next. 

Measurable: The measured success of this goal is whether or not Logan completes the program at Pennsylvania State University at the top of the class. The next step is to establish a timeline. So with that in mind, Logan is to earn an MBA at Pennsylvania State University and to complete the program at the top of his class while achieving this goal by Spring of 2018.

Attainable: Logan needs to identify goals that are important to him. This is what will really make the goals reachable. He knows what he wants to do in life, but getting there is the trick.  He needs to plan the goals in steps, because he knows the chance of becoming a CEO without the proper education and experiences are extremely slim. What is attainable at this point is to earn an MBA at Pennsylvania State University.

Realistic: Logan needs to set a goal that is truly achievable at this time.  With that said, he needs to focus on one semester at a time while in business school.  For his first semester (and all other semesters), Logan needs to take four classes and excel in each in order to earn an MBA at Pennsylvania State University and to complete the program at the top of his class while achieving his goal by the Spring of 2018.

Timely: Logan has already set a time table for the accomplishment of his goal to complete an MBA by Spring of 2018. As soon as Logan earns his B.S. of Business, he will enroll in the MBA program (for which he has already achieved a high score on the GMAT exam as an undergrad). He will begin his MBA program by taking four classes in the fall semester and every semester thereafter in order to finish the MBA program by Spring of 2018.

The idea behind S.M.A.R.T. goals is to help maintain motivation.  Without goals, focus will be lacking which in turn will inhibit the need to accomplish tasks and or projects. A specific set of goals will aid Logan in achieving his dreams to become a high profile executive. 

For a deeper understanding of this analysis, please visit the Goal Setting Theory's main wiki page, which discusses the theory's concepts in more detail.


Merriam-Webster defines the word ‘goal’ as "the end toward which effort is directed" (Goal). What has been presented here is only one of many paths for reaching a goal. There isn’t a one-size-fits all solution. When dealing with goals, an individual doesn’t have any certainty or absolutes to fall back on to ensure their goal will be met. Plainly put, it is a perimeter of forethought for one seeking out an objective.

Logan’s case specificity could be applied to anyone and those perimeters adjusted accordingly. The difference in the example provided and the plan to help achieve Logan’s goal is that it allows for dedication, accountability and preparation to be used to the best of his abilities to help achieve the goal Logan is seeking. At it’s core, it doesn’t secure anything for him but it does put him in the best possible solution for achieving the goal Logan is working towards.

The efficiency and simple construction of a S.M.A.R.T layout can be applied and used by anyone. Its solid foundation of principles make use of focus and work ethic in a balanced format, which can help in making the most difficult goal, obtainable. When applied to the workplace and job motivation, an intelligent approach to goals such as the one described, benefits the individual, the company at hand as well as the customer.

When your goals are clear, you know what you're trying to achieve. You can also measure results accurately, and you know which behaviors to reward along the way.


Goal. (n.d.). Retrieved February 21, 2016, from

Grantham University. (n.d.). Retrieved February 20, 2016, from 

Pennsylvania State University (2016). PSYCH 484, Lesson 6: Goal-Setting Theory: What am I trying to achieve in my work?…Retrieved from:

Under Pressure. Queen. 1981. Vinyl recording.

W. Edwards Deming Quotes. (n.d.). Retrieved February 21, 2016, from


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