The Relationship Between Goal Setting and Ethics

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The relationship between goal setting and ethics is quite complex, if we prioritize goal setting, what is the cost the response is likely to be found in the expectations we set for goal setting. For example, when money is tied to achieving the goal, we can focus on getting the money and become willing to ethically compromise. When, however, we are motivated by thoughts about how we spend our time achieving the target, then we are more likely to act more ethically.

This result, however, is limited to the thinking about how we spend our time. If we are put under the pressure of time and worry about it, thoughts about time turn against us. Time pressure often increases as we approach a goal which may tempt us to act unethically to achieve it. Specifically, we may forego mastering tasks and adopt techniques of avoidance so that we do not look bad, which may lead us both towards unethical choices.

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Self-determination theory and goal-setting theory are well backed up by modern motivation theories. But they’re far from the only prominent OB theories on the subject. Self-efficacy, strengthening, equity or organizational justice, and theories of expectancy reveal various aspects of our motivational processes and tendencies. We start with the Self-efficacy concept.

The theory of self-efficacy, also known as social cognitive theory or the theory of social learning, refers to an individual’s assumption that he or she can perform a task. The greater your self-efficacy, the greater trust you have in your ability to be competitive. So, people with low self-efficacy are more likely to lessen their effort or give up altogether in difficult situations, while those with high self-efficacy will try harder to master the challenge. Self-efficacy may create a positive spiral in which those with high efficiency participate more in their tasks and then increase their success, which further increases their effectiveness.

Another hypothesis provided by a recent study was that self-efficacy was associated with a higher degree of focused attention, resulting in increased task success. Feedback influences self-efficacy; individuals who are high in self-efficacy appear to respond with increased effort and motivation to negative feedback, while those who are low in self-efficacy are likely to lessen their effort after negative feedback. Changes in self-efficacy over time have also to do with changes in creative efficiency. How can managers help their employees achieve high self-efficacy levels? Through putting together objective theory and the principle of self-efficacy.

The theory of purpose setting and the theory of self-efficacy do not compete; they complement one another. Employees whose managers set tough targets for them will have a higher level of self-efficacy and will set higher goals for their own performance. Why? For what? Setting people tough goals communicates your trust in them.

Researcher Albert Bandura, who created the theory of self-efficacy, proposes four ways to improve self-efficacy (Enactive mastery, Vicarious modeling, Verbal persuasion. Arousal) Enactive mastery has been the most significant source of that self-efficacy, that is, acquiring relevant experience with tasks or work. If in the past you were able to do the job effectively, you are surer that you will be able to do it in the future.

The second source is a vicarious simulation because you see someone else doing the job. If your mate stops smoking, you’ll be surer that you can quit too. Vicarious modeling is most effective in perceiving yourself as close to the human you experience. Watching Tiger Woods play a tough golf shot might not improve your faith in being able to play the shot yourself, but if you watch a golfer with a comparable handicap to yours, it’s compelling.

The third source is verbal persuasion: when anyone assures us, we get the skills needed to be successful we become more confident. That tactic is used by motivational speakers. Arousal eventually improves self-efficacy. Arousal leads to an energetic state, so we get ‘psyched up,’ feel ahead of the task, and do better. But if the task requires a steady, lower-key perspective (say, carefully editing a manuscript), arousal may hurt performance, even as it increases self-efficacy because the task might hurry us through.

Intelligence and temperament are missing from Bandura’s list, but they can also improve self-efficacy. Individuals who are intellectual, attentive, and emotionally mature are so much more likely to have high self-efficacy that some scholars contend that self-efficacy is less important than previous research would imply. I say in a smart person with a positive attitude it is partly a by-product.

The best method to use verbal manipulation for a boss is through the power of Pygmalion, a phrase based on a Greek myth about a sculptor  who fell in love with a statue he made. The Pygmalion impact is a form of prophecy that fulfills itself, in which knowing something can make it true. Here, it’s used to describe ‘that what one person expects from another may come to serve a prophecy which fulfills itself.

That should be made clear by one example. Teachers were told in surveys that their students had very high IQ scores while, in fact, they ranged a spectrum from high to low. In line with the Pygmalion effect, the teachers spent a lot of time with the students they thought were intelligent, gave them more difficult assignments and expected more of them all leading to higher self-efficacy and better performance outcomes for the students. This technique has also been used in the workforce, with replicable outcomes and improved benefits where strong relationships are between leaders and subordinates.  

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