Goal setting theory advantages and disadvantages

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According to Mind Tools, Dr. Edwin Locke -- who researched goals and motivation in the 1960s -- claimed that setting goals motivated people. When combined with feedback, goal setting offered a powerful way of improving the performance of individuals and teams. There are clear advantages in setting goals but there are potential disadvantages too.

Clear route

Setting goals provides a clear route forward. Everyone can see what needs to be achieved in the short, medium and long term. This focuses the minds of those involved in achieving the goals. Clear goals enable everyone to be on task at all times. Unnecessary and unfocused work should be reduced, as the team works harmoniously to achieve the goals set out for it. Project Smart further believes the goals should be “specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timed” (see Resources). This way, the achievements are even more focused.

Restrictive framework

Being too precise about the goals can lead to a lack of creative thinking, if people work within a rigid and restrictive framework. Team members may begin to believe they don’t need to contribute much by way of ideas. The goals are already established and they are there simply to facilitate them. They are not required to apply the whole of their intellects, just enough to make the necessary progress towards the predetermined targets.

Manageable steps

Setting goals breaks down a long-term objective into manageable steps. Many people find this more comfortable. The goals may be achieved within a short time frame and will give a beneficial sense of achievement to those who realise them. This triumph can help to motivate people to face the next challenge, which in turn has a beneficial effect on the one after that.


Having to achieve goals, especially if they are difficult to achieve, can put a lot of pressure on people. This can be demotivating. Some people will fear they cannot achieve the goals set out for them. This may impact their performance and cause work related stress, according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) (see Resources). Team performance is about mutual achievement, so individual performance slide is bad for a team and for team morale.

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