A recent psychological science study differentiated people based on their approaches to personal goals, as follows:
- A person with a mastery goal wants to improve him or herself. It’s about personal growth and development.
- A person with a performance goal wants to compete and win. It’s about personal success and achievement.
Either type of goal setting can drive performance, but how can you use this information to bring out the best in employees and increase productivity? Remember that those with mastery goals will both cooperate with and seek the cooperation of others in order to improve the workplace environment, which the see as necessary for their own development. In contrast, those with performance goals may withhold information from others, or be less cooperative, in an attempt to outperform their colleagues.
This study, by P. Marijn Poortvliet and Céline Darnon in Current Directions in Psychological Science, points out to managers that it’s important to “balance the different levels of goals” in order to benefit “the team as a whole.”
A study of nursing students highlighted that, because mastery goals are intrinsic and provide their own built-in pleasures related to learning outcomes, they are more likely to sustain motivation over a long period. Performance goals, which are extrinsic, may not work as well in the long run. It may be helpful to use a “Best Employee” award to cater to performance goal workers and also encourage competition in mastery goal types. A reward for “Most Improved” would encourage both mastery and performance types.
Through observation, most managers can determine which goal-setting approach is most applicable with each of their reports. Designing work processes to synchronize with an individual’s goal-setting and motivational style is an effective way to enhance productivity. Those employees who focus on mastery may be impeded by too competitive a work process (team competitions, for instance). In contrast, employees who focus on performance may have trouble in a situation where collaboration is critical to success.