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The 5 golden principles of goal setting

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goal setting

Goal setting is a powerful tool that can be used to motivate and challenge yourself further towards meeting your career management goals. However, there is a right way and a wrong way to set 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 necessarily tell what it will look like once the goal has been achieved. The result is frustration and lack of effectiveness.

In 1990, Locke and Dr. Gary Latham published “A Theory of Goal Setting and Task Performance” in which they identified five principles that were important in setting goals that will motivate others. These principles are: clarity, challenge, commitment, feedback, and task complexity.


A clear goal is one that can be measured and leaves no room for misunderstanding. Goals should be very explicit regarding what behavior is desired and will be rewarded. Look at the goals listed in Figure 1below to help you understand how to be clearer when setting goals. Continue to ask yourself the question, ‘What will it look like if the goal is completed?’ The answer to the question will help you identify clear goals.


If we know that a goal is a challenge and is also perceived as such by those that assigned it to us, we are more likely to be motivated to achieve it. Of course, there is a balance to be struck with this principle. A goal should be challenging, but must still be achievable.


In order for goals to be effective, they need to be agreed upon. The goal should be in line with the general, established expectations that you have had for the employee in the past. The employee and employer must both be committed to using the resources needed to complete the goal and should also agree on what the reward will be. You could also ask employees to create their own goals for themselves and then discuss them as a team. You might not be aware that someone wants to improve their skills in a certain area or learn more about a specific process.


What if the person is halfway to completing the goal but they have a question? What if you suspect that the person is going about the process of completing the goal in the wrong way? Feedback is a chance to correct or clarify before the goal has been reached.

Task complexity

When a role is complex or highly technical, the person in that role is often already highly motivated or else they wouldn’t have reached that level in their organization. However, even the most motivated person can become discouraged if the complexity of the task and the time it would take to complete it wasn’t fully understood. It is important to make sure that the person has enough time to reach the goal. Unreasonable time expectations will drive a person to overwhelm themselves with work and become less effective as the stress level increases.

Managing your Career

Are you interested in gaining further insights into this topic? Then Managing your Career is the right book for you.

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