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Approach And Avoid Performance Goal Orientation: Effort When Experiencing Failure

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In their theory of locus of attention Kluger and DeNisi (1996) explain the relationships between goal orientation and the ascription of attention. For individuals with an approach performance goal orientation, self worth or “ego” is closely tied to performance. Unlike ego-focused people, task focused individuals maintain cognitive resources allocated at the focal task after they are provided with negative feedback. The allocation of cognitive resources toward the task; task focus, enhances performance by maintaining the individual’s cognitive resources on task level. When people with an approach performance goal orientation are confronted with feedback concerning their performance, their cognitive resources tend to shift away from task level toward the ‘self’. Consequently, those with an approach performance goal orientation attribute failure to a lack or limit to their own ability and a threat to the image others have of their competence.

There is, however, a notable paradox in these patterns of orientations and behaviour. If the demonstration of performance is truly the main concern of an approach performance goal orientation, one would expect the approach performance oriented to implement useful information obtained out of negative feedback to achieve a demonstration of high ability and avoid displays of low ability in the future. An explanation for this theoretical paradox is that a high desire to demonstrate competency does not necessarily mean that there is a concern to actually improve ability. Although some theorists have argued the positive effects of an approach performance goal orientation on effort in contexts that emphasize normative comparisons, this relationship is not sustained in situations of failure and uncertainty (e.g. negative competence feedback). Furthermore, the need to demonstrate and create an impression of ability does not mean the individual will actually engage in action that will improve their authentic performance.

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On the contrary, because of the need to protect impressions of the ‘self’, those with an approach performance goal orientations are expected to withdraw their efforts when faced with failure to avoid any demonstration of low ability in the future. In challenging situations in which these individuals doubt their own abilities or lack confidence, they are more likely to avoid the task, engage in procrastination behaviour or cheat to minimize the probability of appearing incompetent. Findings from past work suggest that the approach performance and avoid performance orientations will be negatively associated with low work effort when making errors at work. The same relationship is expected for pending work assignments, as unfulfilled goals and unachieved tasks can threaten the image of the successful ‘self and can either lead to withdrawal from the task or completion of the task with less effort, especially when poor performance is expected.

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