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Summer 2012 Case


Goal setting is about using motivation to attain something.  Setting a goal can be anything from planning to lose weight, to earning a college degree, or to being more productive in the workplace.  In order for an employer to achieve more productivity from their employees, they need to set goals and use motivation to get them there.  The goal of the employer can be achieved by motivating employees with the promise of rewards.  These rewards may be temporary or permanent.  For example, the employer may give away a prize, or they may reward an employee with a raise.  At the supervisory level, a team leader may set goals the same way and use similar motivation methods.  Even if a manager cannot promise a pay raise, he or she could offer to buy a subordinate team member lunch, for example, as a reward for achieving a goal they have set forth.  Without goal setting, no progress would be achieved, and without motivation, there would be no reason to reach a goal.


In an industrial manufacturing facility, on the job injuries have been on the rise for a while.   This disturbing trend has caused a rise in worker's compensation claims and loss of manpower, as well as extensive damage to equipment and facilities.  The management at the facility is very unhappy and knows that something needs to be changed.  The employees earn a decent wage, are provided a superior health care plan, and are not overworked because they meet the production standards. Additionally, the employees are almost never required to work overtime.  If the employees have what they want from their job, then what would give them motivation to work more safely?  Management does not want to resort to administrative action in fear of losing employees and receiving a bad reputation.  Instead, they have asked all first line supervisors to implement a safety rewards program.  Since the employees receive a respectable wage and up to a three percent raise every year, management has decided that each department, including the supervisors, will receive a company paid lunch and one day off for every month that they are accident free.  Additionally, they have also agreed on a yearly safety prize for each individual employee if the company completes one year of being accident free.  For the first line supervisors, they will also receive a yearly cash bonus if their department is accident and injury free for one year.  Management hopes that by motivating the team and each individual with a reward, they will promote a safe environment for themselves and their employees. They are also hoping that offering a cash bonus to supervisors for maintaining a safe department will be more motivating to encourage safety to their subordinates through leadership.

Analysis of Theories

Goal Mechanisms and Conditions Theory

The idea of attaining a certain goal has a significant effect on our behavior. People can manipulate their thoughts and behaviors in efforts to achieve a certain goal; this produces motivation. Motivation is key to reaching goals and proper goal setting techniques are needed to achieve these goals. In order to do so, goal mechanisms and goal conditions must be recognized.

Goal mechanisms are necessary factors for accomplishing specific goals. The theory of goal mechanisms include four factors: direct attention, energizing, task persistence, and effective strategies (Redmond, PSU WC, L6, page 3-4). All of which are implemented in calculated ways of reaching success. First, there is direct attention. Direct attention involves the idea of focusing one’s attention on accomplishing a goal, and to keep focus from straying away from the desired goal. For example, if a student really needs to achieve an A+ in a math course, direct attention is necessary to keep focused and continue studying. On the other hand, direct attention also sways the students’ attention away from that highly talked about party on Friday night, and instead keeps focus on the approaching midterm on Monday morning. The next part of goal mechanisms is energizing, which includes the amount of effort the individual puts into a specific task or goal. In relating back to the previous example, the student will benefit from producing further effort in making flash cards or seeking a tutor. By exerting more effort on the desired goal, it is more likely that a positive outcome will result. The third mechanism is task persistence. Task performance is recognized by the amount of time exhausted on the desired goal. To attain a certain grade in a class or on an exam, more hours must be spent on studying. Lastly, effective strategies comes into play. Effective strategies is a way of creating different methods that will accomplish such a goal. An example of an effective strategy may be to create sample problems inside the classroom that will help student’s on an exam. Overall, these four goal mechanisms increase performance when achieving one’s specific goal. (Redmond, 2012)

The next section includes goal setting theory conditions. These conditions ensure that effective goals summon motivation. Similar to the goal mechanisms, there are four primary conditions: goal acceptance/goal commitment, goal specificity, goal difficulty, and feedback. Goal acceptance is important for adjusting one’s willingness to fulfill their desired goal. If one is not accepting of the goal in the first place, the results will suffer. Goal commitment is one’s enthusiasm to the goal and how valuable they think the goal is. If the individual does not believe in the goal or view it as worthy, then the results are also less likely to be beneficial. The second condition of goal setting is goal specificity. Goal specificity has a lot to do with interpretation. What one person may view as a more than satisfactory job performance may be viewed by others as lackadaisical or poorly executed. Goal specificity, is just what it sounds like; the goals must be specific, direct, and leave little room for personal interpretation. The result must be standard. The third goal condition is goal difficulty. Goal difficulty can project how much commitment and effort one would put into reaching a certain goal. Motivation is increased when the difficulty level of a goal is increased. In addition, the goal that is set must be attainable. Otherwise a person may feel defeated before they even begin on working towards something. Feedback is the fourth and final goal theory condition. When striving to accomplish a certain goal, one may keep in the back of their head, an idea of satisfactory feedback from a person on the supervisory level. Feedback is a way of continually motivating a person to do better, or continually producing quality work. Feedback is also viewed as a reward or punishment when the goal is reached and could provide as another indicator of motivation along the way. Speaking of “along the way”, feedback that occurs throughout the process of attaining a goal also creates motivation for the person. (Redmond, 2012)

SMART Theory

When it comes to goal setting one of the most widely used tools is the SMART theory. SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, and Time-Related (PSU WC, L 6, p. 4). This theory provides a basic outline for how a person should set goals and ensure that they are the correct goals to strive for. Creating specific goals gives a person an exact target and helps them to stay focused. Measurability, or possessing the ability to monitor ones' progress towards a goal is very important because it allows the individual or group to understand how close they are to achieving their goal. Assignable, the third component of the SMART theory, may be the most crucial, especially in group or organizational settings. When a task is specifically directed towards one individual or group, it eliminates confusion and interference from those who are not involved.  The fourth characteristic is also extremely important as goals must be realistic. Setting realistic and obtainable goals prevents the assigned party from feeling overwhelmed by a goal that is unobtainable or out of reach. The fifth and final characteristic of a goal according to the SMART theory is that it should be time-related. Putting an end date allows for the assigned party to know when a goal must be achieved by. This is important within the workplace, considering that many goals involve sales or production.  

Management by Objectives (MBO) Theory

Management by Objective (MBO) is the process of goal-setting whereby employees and management participate in joint goal setting and evaluation of employee performance based on these set goals (Pinder, 2008).  Successfully implemented in organizations to increase motivation, MBO emphasizes that motivation and ultimately performance is the result of participation of employees in defining goals. That is, the employee and supervisor work together to define goals which should increase the employee's autonomy and commitment in reaching them.  This process takes place in three stages (PSU WC, L 6, p. 10). First, the employee and supervisor discuss and determine quantifiable objectives and action plans to reach established short and long-term goals. Second, the devised plan is implemented; if needed, changes are made, and feedback or reviews are conducted periodically to track progress. Finally, the results are evaluated and determined by the agreed-upon measurable goals. If performance has improved, then achievement is rewarded. 

Application of Theories

Goal Mechanisms and Conditions Theory

Injuries in this specific industrial manufacturing facility have been on the rise. These are obviously detrimental to employees, but are also financially costing the company in medical fees and workman’s compensation. A goal has been set in decreasing the amount of injuries that occur on the job, and a very valuable reward has been established. Through effective goal mechanisms and goal conditions, this goal can be reached.

Direct attention is the first part of proper goal mechanisms that must be recognized. Direct attention is necessary by paying critical attention to the safety of ones’ self and the safety of their co-workers. By paying close attention to details, this can decrease the amount of injuries that occur. Secondly, energizing cautious efforts on being safe is vital. This can happen by being aware of safety guidelines and ensuring that safety measures are being followed. Task persistence can be accomplished by spending the necessary amount of time on reviewing safety manuals and scrutinizing every step taken. More time may be spent on tasks, but the primary concern should be safety. Lastly, effective strategies must be set to attain the given goal. Reviewing safety techniques and buying safety equipment, such as hard hats, protective gloves, and safety goggles will benefit all sides of the established goal. 

Safety is key; and through appropriate goal conditions, this will remain true. Goal acceptance and goal commitment is very important. The message must be relayed to the workers that these measures are for their own safety, not implemented in a way that scrutinizes their work. The workers must accept these goals for their own well-being. They will view these goals as valuable, which will keep them committed to being safe while working in the facility. Goal specificity must be mediated in a precise manner. The intended goal must be broken down into detailed areas that are trying to be improved. In addition, goal difficulty must be depicted. The goal is for the best interest of the worker, therefore, must be attainable. Since the issue is dealing with safety the goal is possible. If this were not the case, then the workers would not increase their motivation to achieve the goal. For this goal to be met, supervisors and management must provide feedback to the workers; whether positive or negative. If the feedback is positive, then the workers may feel a sense of a job well done, and this will continue their safe measure in working. If the feedback is negative, then it should motivate the workers to be intricately aware of the safety of themselves and fellow co-workers. If these four conditions are met, workers at the industrial management facility should live in a safer environment that will decrease injuries. 

SMART Theory

Applying the SMART theory on goal setting to the case above is quite easy, which is one of the reasons that this method has been so popular. 

  • Is the goal specific? In this case, the goal is to reduce the number of accidents and injuries in the facility. Although it does provide a specific goal, it is still vague in it's definition of what an “accident” and “injury” are. By specifying that accidents are incidents that result in a loss and injuries are those that require medical treatment, such as stitches, it would provide a better picture for the employees.
  • Is the goal measurable? The case provides a goal that is measurable because it is either a pass or fail goal. If there is an accident in the time set forth (one month and one year) employees can monitor the progress that is being made towards their goal. 
  • Is the goal assignable? Once again the company in the case did a good job of creating the goal as they made it assignable. This goal was given to each department and their respective managers to help decrease the amount of accidents and on the job injuries. However, the company may want to look to reward on an individual basis because if one person has an accident then all the workers will miss the reward.
  • Is the goal reasonable? In the case many of the workers may see this goal as unrealistic. While the company knows the workers are well compensated, they may be overlooking the fact that the job may just be inherently dangerous or the workers might be under-trained. Offering differing levels of rewards could help make this goal more reasonable. For example, a free lunch could be rewarded for surviving two weeks without an accident, while a paid day off could be given after four weeks of being accident free. 
  • Is the goal time-related? As stated above the company did make the goal time-related, however the time table on rewards might be altered for better results.

So even though the goals set by the company in the case is very well constructed, this is the perfect example of how the SMART method can and should be implemented to make goals even better.

Management by Objectives (MBO) Theory

In examination of the case study presented above, management would like to increase the motivation of both first-line supervisors and subordinates to decrease injuries and accidents. A goal-setting intervention based on Management by Objectives would entail upper management meeting with department first-line supervisors to discuss the organizational needs and goals. Equipped with company specific objectives (i.e. decrease injuries by 50%) management would allow first-line supervisors to collaborate with their department employees in mapping a plan of action. That is, in order to increase employee participation and ultimately increase safety behaviors, it's essential for first-line supervisors and employees to participatively set goals (PSU WC, L6. p. 10). Together, they would map a strategic plan, consisting of activities and measurable objectives in order to reach mutually agreed upon short and long-term goals. 

Additionally, because upper management has requested to implement a safety rewards program and rewards are a necessary component to MBO outcomes, the reward must be motivating, not only for supervisors, but department employees. Thus, in order to determine effectiveness of established strategies and rewards, management and supervisor's should partner together to monitor safety progress. That is, analysis of data (i.e. reported injuries, equipment damage, and claims reports), feedback, and performance reviews are conducted and action plans, objectives, and rewards may be changed along the way to increase goal conditions. 

The third stage of MBO is evaluation. Upper management is responsible for conducting the supervisor’s performance review. Research shows that performance improvement is generally highest among organizations with supportive upper-management (Rodgers &Hunger, 1991). So, rather than dictating goals and rewards, first-line supervisors will collaborate with both upper management and their subordinates to determine objectives. As a result, evaluations will likely show increased progress and success in reaching goals.


Each day we set goals for ourselves, which can range from short term (i.e. mowing the grass) to long term (i.e. owning a business). To achieve these goals, successful methods of motivation are often necessary. This project used three popular goal-setting theories to analyze a case study at an industrial manufacturing facility. The primary issue is that accidents and injuries have been increasing within the factory,  which has caused a rise in workman's compensation claims, loss of manpower, and damage to equipment. Management's initial response to these injuries was an attempt to implement a safety rewards program that would encourage a decline in work-related accidents. To help the company, three goal-setting methods were used to further evaluate and correct these issues, including the goal mechanisms and conditions theory, SMART theory, and management by objectives (MBO). 

The goal setting theory is made up of four goal mechanisms: direct attention, energizing, task persistence, and effective strategies. The mechanisms are used to help ensure that one is motivated to accomplish goals and that they are carried out effectively. Similarly, there are also four conditions to the goal-setting theory: acceptance/goal commitment, goal specificity, goal difficulty, and feedback. These are different from the four mechanisms in that they deal with outside factors that are sometimes beyond one's control. For instance, feedback from a supervisor can severely effect an employee's motivation and change their personal goals. This can play an especially motivating factor in the case above. By consisting providing safety warnings and updates, the goal setting theory can be used to help decrease injuries and accidents. The second component of the goal setting theory, the SMART method, contains a basic outline of how a person should set and follow through with their goals. The acronym SMART consists of five terms that will help with this: specific, measurable, assignable, realistic, and time-related. By applying the components of this theory, it was determined that upper-management at the industrial manufacturing facility set goals that were measurable, assignable, and time-related. However, they could do a better job at specifying the criteria for an "accident" and "injury" and could make the rewards program more realistic by applying a more consistent method of handing out prizes. Management by objectives was the final method that was used in the goal setting theory, which operates by having employees and management participate jointly in the goal setting process. The three stages of this method are to (1) collaborate and form a plan, (2) implement that plan and provide feedback, and (3) evaluate the results. When applying these steps to the case study, it was found that the supervisor and upper-management should first come together to create a plan that contains activities and measurable objectives that will lead to short-term and long-term goals. When implementing the safety rewards program, data such as reported injuries, equipment damage, and claims reports should be analyzed and rewards should be altered accordingly. Finally, upper management should evaluate the performance of his supervisor, which will likely increase the company's success. Overall, these three theories should help to resolve the issues that were apparent in the case study. 


Pennsylvania State University World Campus (2012). PSYCH 484 Lesson 6: Goal-Setting Theory: What am I trying to achieve in my work?  HYPERLINK "" 

Pinder, C. C. (2008). Work motivation in organizational behavior. New York: Psychology Press.

Redmond, B.F. (2012). Goal-Setting Theory: What am I trying to achieve in my work? Work Attitudes and MotivationThe Pennsylvania State University World Campus.

Rodgers, R., & Hunter, J. E. (1991). Impact of management by objectives on organizational productivity. Journal of Applied Psychology, 76, 322-336.

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