A Look At Locke and Latham’s Goal Setting Theory

Apr 5, 2022 | Goal Setting

Throughout this article we will be expanding on the rebound, Locke and Latham’s goal setting theory.

In the current day and age, the space of self development and ways you can better you life has exploded.

There’s never been more information on the topic, conveniently all at our fingertips.

Unlike most theories Lock and Latham’s began many many years ago, 1990 to be precise.

Because of this it has become one of the most researched and stress tested hypothesis in the self development space.

Lock and Latham’s goal setting theory is based heavily on five key principles.

As we read on we will expand further on each, enabling you to get a better understanding as to what it take for you to achieve your goals.

What Is Locke and Latham’s Goal Setting Theory?

The goal setting theory was originally proposed by Edwin A. Locke and Gary P. Latham in 1990.

It was a means of understanding how goal setting affects individual performance.

The theory postulates that goal setting is a major determinant of an individual’s motivation.

And that specific, difficult goals lead to higher levels of performance than do easier goals or no goals at all.

The goal setting theory has been supported by a great deal of research.

Because of this it’s commonly referred to as one of the most important theories in industrial and organisational psychology.

Locke and Latham’s 5 Main Principles

There are five key principles of goal setting that Locke and Latham put forward in their theory.

Each principle is essential for goal setting to be effective.

They are as follows:


For goals to be motivating they need to be clear and they should be concise.

The more complex a goal the harder for people it can be to understand.

This, in turn, makes them less motivating.

A decrease in motivation will require an increase in discipline.

the two aligned the easier it becomes to achieve the goal that was set in the first place.


Goals should be challenging.

Individuals must feel that their objectives are beyond their current capabilities in order to be motivated.

They want to believe that achieving their objectives would make them feel proud of themselves.

More importantly proving a substantial sense of achievement and fulfilment.

Because for most that’s what they’re looking for in this life.

However, individuals will not acquire the same level of motivation if their goals are too challenging.

Almost seeming our of reach.

If goals appear unobtainable it not coming to begin with the approach of ‘what’s the point’.

As humans if we feel as though we’re never going to get there.

Then why start in the first place?

This is why its crucial you’re able to find what we refer to as the sweet spot when setting goals.

A balance where you feel as though you’re being pushed but the goal is still much within reach.


You must be committed to your goal.

You need to believe that it’s possible to achieve the goal.

If you don’t believe you can achieve a goal, you’re unlikely to put in the effort required to reach it.

Goals must be accepted by the individuals engaged in fulfilling them in order to be truly exciting.

It’s possible that someone will propose a goal and yet not truly accept it.

Goal acceptance occurs in futile different ways.

However, people can also simply accept a goal proposed by someone else.

Sometimes individuals are more open and accepting towards a goal if they help create it.


Feedback is important for goal setting.

It allows you to track your progress and see how close you are to reaching your goal.

For individuals to be motivated by goals they need to understand how they are doing in relation to them.

Feedback should be timely and accurate when related to performance feedback.

This feedback can occur in multiple different ways, including:

  • Metrics
  • Data
  • Feedback from others
  • Looking back at where there started in relation to where they find themselves now.

There can be all kinds of way you can measure progress.

The type of feedback that is required will be determined by the goal being pursued.

However, providing some sort of feedback is always a good idea.

Task complexity

The goal must be clear and well-defined.

It should be specific and measurable.

Setting objectives at the appropriate level of complexity is critical for people.

People should utilize a variety of purposes for complicated activities and goals.

When singular objectives are established for complex activities, they often aren’t very successful.

Given this, it’s critical to segment goals into manageable portions.

Key Points To Take Away From Locke and Latham’s Goal Setting Theory

When setting goals there are a serious of foundations that need to be in place before you can look to kick on.

When looking at the structure of a building, the deeper the foundations the taller the taller the building can be built.

The same applies to goal setting.

It’s an essential part of the process to truly understand what it is you want to achieve.

From there you can begin to look at how you’re going to go about achieving it.

There are a series of key points that should always be taken into account when goal setting

These include:

  • The goal must be challenging but also within reach
  • You must be committed to the goal
  • Feedback is important to track progress
  • Goals must be clear and well defined

For complex tasks, multiple goals should be set

If these foundations are in place, then Locke and Latham argue that goal setting theory can have a profound effect on an individual’s motivation levels.

It has been proven time and time again to increase productivity in those who adopt its methods.

Where To Start?

A goal without direction is just a pipe dream, something that will never come to fruition no matter how much you want it.

Getting started is 70% of the journey.

It just requires you to take the first step.

As we mentioned at the start there is a never ending list of actions to take, if you wish to better your life.

However, this can become overwhelming.

If you feel as though you’re someone who is unsure where to start and need a point in the right direction.

Head over and check out our courses. You will be met with a serious of tailored courses and options that can help you get the ball rolling on your self development journey.

Having a step by step process in place can be the difference.

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