Which Employees Set the Bar Higher?

Topic: Personality, Motivation, Goals
Publication: Personality and Individual Differences (JAN 2010)
Article: Individual differences in reactions to goal-performance discrepancies over time.
Authors: P.D. Converse, E. Steinhauser, and J. Pathak
Reviewed By: Benjamin Granger

By nature, a goal creates a discrepancy between an employee’s current performance and some future state. For example, though I have only written one and half sentences, my goal is to write a full review. Thus, by setting this goal, I have created a goal-performance discrepancy for myself. Research suggests that goal-performance discrepancies motivate employees to modify their goals (either up or down) and/or efforts toward attaining those goals (slack off or try harder).

A recent study by Converse, Steinhauser, and Pathak suggests that several individual differences predict how individuals behave in response to goal-performance discrepancies (which comes in the form of performance feedback). Converse et al.’s study was conducted on a sample of 90 college students taking an introductory psychology course.

Past research has found that, in general, individuals tend to set lower goals after receiving negative feedback (i.e., large goal-performance discrepancy) and set higher goals following positive feedback.  Converse et al. found that this trend is especially true for individuals with an internal locus of control (i.e., believe that they have control over outcomes). Individuals with an external locus of control (believe that they have little control over outcomes) do not follow this pattern, as they tend to set slightly higher goals following negative feedback.

Also, individuals high in self-efficacy tend to set higher goals for themselves, especially after receiving positive feedback. Highly efficacious people have more confidence in their ability and thus are more willing to challenge themselves by setting the bar a little higher. Finally, whereas conscientious individuals tend to increase effort following negative feedback, they may actually reduce effort following positive feedback. Converse et al. speculate that conscientious individuals may allocate resources away from the goal and consciously juggle other goals and/or priorities, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Converse, P.D., Steinhauser, E., & Pathak, J. (2010). Individual differences in reactions to goal-performance discrepancies over time. Personality and Individual Differences, 48, 138-143.