Using Goal Orientation Theory At Work

A goal orientation is a representation of a type of goal an individual is likely to be intrinsically motivated by.

In business, using goal orientation is a strategy that guides how a company operates.

Goal orientation can affect how individual employees get their work done, how managers lead their teams, and how the entire company focuses its efforts.

If you understand this theory of motivation, the different types of goal orientations people use, and helpful goal orientation habits, you can really support your personnel in their efforts.

Different types of goal orientations

There are lots of different types of goal orientations — or what a person pinpoints as their motivation for doing something. When it comes to business, there are two main kinds of goals: task-oriented goals and ego-oriented goals. Do those terms sound familiar? Both are often used as approaches to athlete training.

Task-oriented goals

When people use task-oriented goals, they’re approaching their work by using their skills to get tasks done. When the tasks are done, they meet their goals. Focus and motivation is on the task itself. For example, an athlete might set task-oriented goals when they’re trying to master a certain skill, like kicking a ball or swinging a tennis racket.

In the office, a manager’s task-oriented goals might include having individual meetings with everyone on her team, or finishing a presentation before the end of the day.

Ego-oriented or goal-oriented goals

On the other hand, when people are ego-oriented or goal-oriented to get their work done, they’re fueled by competition and achieving their goals themselves. The focus and motivation is on the results of their work, rather than the work itself.

Athletes who are goal-oriented might focus on winning a game, ranking at the top of their division, or making the playoffs. And an employee who is ego-oriented may focus their efforts on getting a promotion or a raise.

So, which one of these approaches is better for your business?

How goal orientation benefits the workplace

If you’re part of leadership in your company, you can probably name a few employees who are obviously task-oriented, and others who are goal-oriented (and maybe a few who are ego-oriented). But can you name some employees who use both approaches to get their work done and further their career at the same time?

When you use a task-oriented approach to work, you’re intrinsically motivated. A task-oriented person reaches their goals, and it doesn’t matter whether they “won,” “lost,” or even placed. It’s not a competition. Think of someone who signs up for a 5k race simply because they want to complete the race. Maybe they’ve never run a 5k before, or maybe they’re doing it to support a cause.

People who use a task-oriented approach are likely determined, hard workers. They push through failure and tackle challenges head on. Their focus is to use their skills to complete the task, not to win. While this attitude is admirable, the downside is employees can spend too much time focusing on smaller tasks or details.

And that’s where a goal-oriented approach comes in. A goal-oriented person is extrinsically motivated by the thrill of “winning,” of reaching the goal itself. You want to be the best, rather than just do your best.

This kind of person signs up for a 5k because they want to win and show that they are better than the other competitors. It might sound harsh, but it’s perfectly natural. A goal-oriented approach in the workplace can focus an employee’s efforts for the future. Keeping the bigger picture in mind can help guide day-to-day responsibilities and smaller goals.

Like this sports psychology piece says: a balanced approach to goals with clear communication is best. You can’t operate by only focusing on getting smaller tasks done. You need to know why these tasks are set, and what the ultimate goal is. Likewise, you can’t set one goal in the future and then wing it. Achieving that goal will be much easier when you break it down into smaller tasks that can be measured and evaluated.

Goal orientation habits anyone can develop

Whether you’re an entry-level employee, team manager, or upper level executive, you can benefit from developing these goal orientation habits to get you through a tough workday and plan for your career. Remember, a good strong mix of task-oriented and goal-oriented approaches will yield the best results.

Plan out your entire workday

Feeling stuck by the amount of work you need to do in one day? We get it. It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you’re looking at a giant To Do list. In this case, a task-oriented approach (the tasks themselves) rather than a goal-oriented approach (finishing everything on time as fast as possible) will work better for you. Taking on each task one by one instead of thinking about everything will keep you from going crazy.

Making a giant To Do list is the first step in getting stuff done. Once you’ve written down everything that must be accomplished for the day, organize your tasks. Separate or color code different projects or tasks, so you can easily find them in a hurry.

Make sure you aim to finish tasks first that take priority over others. Break down bigger things into smaller, more manageable steps if needed. Assign your own due dates to keep yourself accountable.

Check off tasks when you finish them

Now that you’re organized, get to work! Stick to your due dates and schedule. Focus on one task at a time. Check off each task one by one after you complete it. It’s a great feeling.

We also recommend being honest with yourself about what you can achieve. If you know you find yourself in an energy slump after lunch or at the very end of the day, schedule in short breaks, or put less important tasks in those time slots.

Give yourself blocks of time to make phone calls and send emails, too. That way, you won’t be tempted to get distracted by answering emails or calls as soon as they come in.

Track your progress and goals

Don’t forget that your overall goals are just as important as your daily responsibilities. If you’ve broken down a large project into smaller steps by week, check in with your overall progress to be sure that you’re on track.

If you’re a manager, that’s where periodic team meetings can be really helpful. You can see how each team member on your project is progressing, and motivate them to keep going, too. Balancing task-oriented goals with a goal-oriented approach makes for better team collaboration, productivity, open communication, and efficiency.

A balanced goal orientation approach works wonders

Adopting a blended approach of task-oriented goals and goal-oriented focus benefits everyone in a business. The best part? A company can achieve their goals using goal orientation by changing their approach now. Encourage your entire team to get organized, set goals, and track their progress.

Whether you’re aiming to finish all your tasks or get the entire team organized on a huge project, a balanced approach will help you do it.