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ENRICHING GOAL-SETTING THEORY WITH TIME: AN INTEGRATED APPROACH

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We examine the overlooked role of time in goal-setting theory and demonstrate how the integration of time into this theory adds to its dynamism and validity in the increasingly complex, constantly changing work environment. Following a brief dis- cussion of developments in the scientific understanding of time, we discuss and illustrate how these new understandings enhance the utility and theoretical sound- ness of the theory and how time can be integrated into the theory’s main components: goal difficulty, goal attainability, and goal specificity.
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Content Preview
Academy of Management Review
2004, Vol. 29, No. 3, 404–422.
ENRICHING GOAL-SETTING THEORY WITH
TIME: AN INTEGRATED APPROACH
YITZHAK FRIED
LINDA HAYNES SLOWIK
Wayne State University
We examine the overlooked role of time in goal-setting theory and demonstrate how
the integration of time into this theory adds to its dynamism and validity in the
increasingly complex, constantly changing work environment. Following a brief dis-
cussion of developments in the scientific understanding of time, we discuss and
illustrate how these new understandings enhance the utility and theoretical sound-
ness of the theory and how time can be integrated into the theory’s main components:
goal difficulty, goal attainability, and goal specificity.

Time is an important factor in people’s lives,
herently associated with the issue of time in
both at and outside of work. A significant por-
terms of, for example, deadlines or appropriate
tion of people’s cognitions relates to time—
time frames needed for accomplishing different
namely, past and present experiences, as well
goals. Therefore, it is natural to discuss the role
as future expectations and plans. However, it is
of time in goal-setting theory.
interesting to note that work motivation theories
Furthermore, we argue here that the contribu-
have generally failed to systematically incorpo-
tion of goal-setting theory has not been fully
rate time as an important variable affecting
realized because of the failure to systematically
people’s motivation (cf. George & Jones, 2000;
incorporate the dynamic role of time. Goal-
Rousseau & Fried, 2001). We argue that incorpo-
setting theory offers a good opportunity to dem-
rating time as an integral part of motivation
onstrate the importance of time and context as-
theories would improve their validity, general-
sociated with time because of its cognitive
izability, and utility (cf. George & Jones, 2000;
underpinnings. As in other key cognitive theo-
McGrath & Rotchford, 1983; McGrath & Tschan,
ries (e.g., expectancy, equity), in goal-setting
2004). Here we demonstrate the importance of
theory it is assumed that behavior reflects con-
time to motivation theories by discussing the
scious goals and intentions. We argue that cog-
potential relevance and contribution of time and
nitive motivation models, such as goal-setting
context associated with time to goal-setting the-
theory, permit researchers to focus on the hu-
ory. We hope that this analysis of the role of time
man tendency to interpret the past and present,
in goal-setting theory will serve as a basis for
envision the future, and incorporate these three
future analysis of the role of time in other work-
time frames and the relationships among them
related motivational theories.
as integral parts of the cognitive processes of
Although time can be discussed as an impor-
behavioral decision making at work.
tant component of other motivational theories as
Following a review of developments in the
well, we selected goal-setting theory to demon-
scientific understanding of time and the major
strate the importance of time for two major rea-
features of the goal-setting theory, we describe
sons. First, goal-setting theory has arguably be-
how time can be incorporated into goal-setting
come one of the dominant motivational theories
theory, thereby enhancing the theory’s thor-
in organizational behavior (e.g., Feather, 1990;
oughness and predictive power.
Locke & Latham, 1990; Naylor, Pritchard, & Ilgen,
1980). Second, the focus of goal-setting theory on
the achievements of goals also means that it,
UNDERSTANDING THE CONSTRUCT OF TIME
more than any other motivational theory, is in-
Time is an enigmatic aspect of reality that
researchers from a variety of disciplines are
now beginning to understand, including those
We thank Denise Rousseau, Ari Levi, Avi Kleuger, and
Miriam Erez for their valuable input.
in the behavioral sciences. Although many im-
404

2004
Fried and Slowik
405
portant strides have been taken toward gaining
should be complemented by the relativistic
a fuller understanding of time in the areas of
(subjective) perspective of time.
psychology, sociology, or organizational behav-
The general theory of relativity of time in the
ior (cf. Ancona, Goodman, Lawrence, & Tush-
context of the social sciences suggests that time
man, 2001; Clark, 1985; George & Jones, 2000; Lee
has very different characteristics not generally
& Liebenau, 1999; Mitchell & James, 2001;
recognized in Western industrialized societies,
Nowotny, 1992; Thierry & Meijman, 1994; Whipp,
although they are scientifically well docu-
1994; Zaheer, Albert, & Zaheer, 1999), these ad-
mented and accepted (e.g., see Lee & Liebenau,
vances are esoteric and far from becoming com-
1999; McGrath, 1988; McGrath & Tschan, 2004).
mon knowledge.
Evidence and theory indicate that time involves
Two perspectives dominate discussions of
multiple time perspectives and multiple
time: (1) an absolute view, based on the work of
streams, is cyclical (rather than linear), is un-
Galileo (1957) and Newton (1962), and (2) a rela-
even (rather than homogeneous), and is concrete
tivistic view, based on the work of Einstein (1945)
and relational (i.e., its meaning is relative to the
and others (cf. de Beauregard, 1966). Proponents
surrounding context), rather than abstract and
of the absolute perspective view time as linear
absolute (e.g., Jones, 1988; Laurer, 1981; McGrath
and continuous—that is, time advances linearly
& Kelly, 1986).
from past to present to future— homogeneous—
Concerning the issue of time perspective, so-
that is, each second is like every other second—
cietal cultures differ in their orientation to time
infinitely divisible, objective, and universal—
such that different cultures place varying de-
that is, subject to a single interpretation (e.g.,
grees of emphasis on the past, present, and fu-
see Bluedorn & Denhardt, 1988, and Slife, 1993).
ture (e.g., Hall & Hall, 1987; Schein, 1992). For
This view, known as clock time, is how Ameri-
example, Chinese culture values the past much
can and other Western cultures conceive of time.
more than do American and, more generally,
Acceptance of clock time as reality grew dur-
Western cultures, which tend to characterize
ing the nineteenth and twentieth centuries,
time as having a clear and unrepeatable past, a
spurred by the introduction of affordable
highly transient “present,” and an infinite, un-
watches, and it coincided with the Industrial
limited future (e.g., McGrath & Rotchford, 1983).
Revolution (Schommers, 1994, 1998; Slife, 1993).
Furthermore, the literature suggests that, within
Clock time became a key to organizational op-
a particular culture, organizations and individ-
erations (e.g., McGrath & Rotchford, 1983;
uals may vary in their time perspectives (e.g.,
McGrath & Tschan, 2004). For example, organi-
Schriber & Gutek, 1987). For, example, while
zations consider time to be a scarce and mea-
American and Western cultures in general are
surable resource, which they can and should
oriented more toward the future, evidence sug-
control and allocate appropriately to enhance
gests that both organizations and individuals in
individual and organizational productivity and
these cultures tend to differ in whether they are
efficiency. Thus, organizations are involved in
oriented toward the future or toward the present
planning (scheduling) and synchronizing time
(e.g., Raynor, 1974; Schriber & Gutek, 1987).
among activities in order to maximize efficiency,
Moreover, time is not homogeneous and linear
as reflected in the ratio between productivity
but, rather, is based on events that are often
and clock time (McGrath & Rotchford, 1983). The
cyclical in nature (Clark, 1985; Nowotny, 1992;
deadline, in particular, is a key tool for the con-
Slife, 1993). Whereas clock time is formally con-
trol and synchronization of organizational activ-
structed linearly and evenly (e.g., every hour
ities (e.g., Lee & Liebenau, 1999).
consists of exactly sixty equal minutes), the sub-
However, people’s perception of time is not
jective experience of time differs, based on
limited only to the objective characteristics of
meaningful events that are often repetitive (cf.
clock time. A growing number of scholars now
Clark, 1978, 1985). For example, a professor,
view clock time as limiting our understanding of
whose academic year consists of nine months, is
social and organizational phenomena (e.g., An-
required to teach a regular schedule during the
cona et al., 2001; Bluedorn & Denhardt, 1988; Lee
fall and winter semesters. The professor plans
& Liebenau, 1999; McGrath & Rotchford, 1983;
and operationalizes his or her other work and
Slife, 1993; Zellmer-Bruhn, Gibson, & Aldag,
life activities (e.g., travel, family, and social
2001). They argue that the clock time concept
events) around this key cyclical event of teach-

406
Academy of Management Review
July
ing. The cyclical events also affect the subjec-
likely to experience the opposite: that time is
tive feelings of the involved individual such that
long and hardly passing (e.g., Csikszentmihalyi,
(for example) the days the professor teaches
1990; Mainemelis, 2001). Similarly, performing
“feel” different from the days he or she does not.
under stressful conditions may also contribute
Similarly, the weekend days “feel” different
to the experience of time passing slowly (cf.
from the five working days (McGrath & Rotch-
Zaheer et al., 1999).
ford, 1983). Thus, in contrast to clock time, which
To sum up, both subjective (relativistic) and
flows evenly and continuously, event times are
objective (clock) time perspectives are important
discontinuous and flow unevenly (e.g., Clark,
in understanding people’s adjustment to mod-
1985).
ern life. Hassard summarizes the important role
Social time also contains multiple time
of both time perspectives in the modern society:
streams. To illustrate, people in the Western
While individuals experience time as natural
world are typically part of at least two time
and inherent, and while subjective awareness of
streams— home and work—which are associ-
time becomes expressed in the construction of
ated with different experiences and expecta-
intersubjective temporal meanings, nevertheless,
tions. Within each, additional streams may ex-
in modern society pressures for synchronization
force time sense to become objectified and con-
ist. At work, professional and occupational
strained. In order to be organized, individuals
groups may operate under different time
must subscribe to times which are rational and
streams (Dubinskas, 1988; Lee & Liebenau, 1999;
external (1996: 591).
Schein, 1992; Whipp, 1994). For example, the nor-
Our focus here, therefore, is on incorporating the
mal time horizon for salespeople is typically
conception of time (both clock time and the var-
measured in minutes, hours, days, and weeks,
ious components of the subjective time perspec-
whereas scientists in research and development
tives described above) into the components and
may be concerned with many years (e.g., Law-
principles of goal-setting theory, since we sug-
rence & Lorsch, 1967; Schein, 1992). These differ-
gest this improves our ability to understand and
ent time horizons are expected to contribute to
predict individuals’ work motivation and perfor-
different definitions among salespeople versus
mance.
scientists concerning what constitutes “quick”
or “slow” delivery of a product (Schein, 1992).
Thus, promising delivery “soon” will have a
GOAL-SETTING THEORY
completely different meaning among salespeo-
Goal-Setting Components
ple versus scientists. As we discuss later, such
differences in time horizons exist between man-
Goal-setting theory states that the expect-
agers and scientists or professionals in general.
ancy, instrumentality, and valence of outcomes
Furthermore, time is concrete and relational,
will be high if goals are difficult (challenging),
rather than abstract and objective, and is
as well as specific and attainable (e.g., Austin &
strongly defined by social culture and related
Klein, 1996; Locke & Latham, 1990, 2002). Specif-
norms. For example, “late” could change, de-
ically, there is the assumption that behavior re-
pending on whether a project is driven inter-
flects conscious goals and intentions. Conse-
nally or externally— based on customer de-
quently, the expectation is that employee efforts
mands (Zaheer et al., 1999). Similarly, what
and performance in organizations will be influ-
constitutes a “quick” or “slow” promotion de-
enced by the goals assigned to, or selected by,
pends on the norms constructed by the profes-
these employees. Theorists argue that, to maxi-
sion or particular organization regarding nor-
mize employees’ efforts and subsequent perfor-
mative time for career progression (Hassard,
mance, performance goals should be challeng-
1996).
ing rather than easy, but they should also be
Finally, people may experience time differ-
achievable. In the minds of employees, the ex-
ently because of their personality or work envi-
perience of success in the pursuit of challenging
ronment (e.g., Bond & Feather, 1988; Zellmer-
but attainable goals is associated with positive
Bruhn et al., 2001). For example, employees who
and valued (high-valence) outcomes. These out-
work in a stimulating (challenging) environment
comes are both internal—for example, a sense
are more likely to experience the “flow” of time.
of accomplishment, escape from feeling bored or
Their counterparts who work in boring jobs are
useless, and proving oneself—and external—for

2004
Fried and Slowik
407
example, higher income, job security, and op-
in achieving current goals (Locke & Latham,
portunities for promotions (e.g., Mento, Klein, &
1990). Numerous studies have suggested that
Locke, 1992).
past performance, or the perception of past per-
The theory also states that goals should be
formance, is an indicator of future goal choice
specific (e.g., increase productivity by 5 percent
(Locke & Latham, 1990). We are particularly in-
in the next year), rather than general (i.e., “do
terested in the complex issue of goal choice fol-
your best”). However, in complex jobs, “do your
lowing a failure. Furthermore, while in goal-
best” goals are likely to be more effective
setting theory and related research scholars
(Latham & Seijts, 1999; Locke, 1996). The theory
recognize that people tend to prioritize goals
further asserts that people’s commitment is im-
based on their importance (e.g., Locke & Latham,
portant to maximize the relationship between
1990), an important issue scholars have not ad-
goal and performance. Moreover, commitment
dressed concerns how the context of time affects
can be enhanced by two categories of factors
the choice and selection of multiple goals in the
that (1) make the goal attainment important and
work setting and how these goals are related
(2) enhance individuals’ belief that they can at-
across time (cf. Austin & Bobko, 1985; Locke &
tain the goal (high self-efficacy). Finally, the the-
Latham, 1990, 2002). We elaborate on this key
ory asserts that consistent and timely feedback
is needed for successful pursuit of goals (e.g.,
issue in this article.
Locke & Latham, 1990, 2002).
Finally, goal-setting theory asserts that chal-
lenging goals cause people to work longer on a
task. People who work on easier goals are ex-
Present Treatment of Time in Goal-Setting
pected to complete their goals sooner, simply
Theory
because they have nothing more to do. A num-
While goal-setting theory fails to systemat-
ber of studies provide support for this assertion
ically discuss the potential contribution of
(Locke & Latham, 1990). We contribute ideas on
time (cf. George & Jones, 2000) and instead
this issue of challenging goals and time
implicitly aggregates motivation over time, it
throughout the paper. We should also note that
does incorporate certain elements of clock
while in goal-setting theory and related re-
time, as we now describe. One time-related
search scholars have examined the moderating
issue that is explicitly discussed in goal-
effects of a number of situational and personal
setting theory is that of deadlines (e.g., Locke
variables (Austin & Klein, 1996; Locke & Latham,
& Latham, 1990), which define when goals
2002), they have not assessed the moderating
should be completed. The basic idea of the
influence of time or variables related to time.
theory is that deadlines serve as a tool of time
In sum, similar to other motivation theories,
control and increase the motivational effect of
goal-setting theory has failed to systemati-
goals. Thus, when the available time to com-
cally address the potential effects of time on
plete a task is longer than needed, the work
the major components of the theory (cf. Austin
pace slows to fill the available time. In con-
& Bobko, 1985; George & Jones, 2000). In this
trast, when deadlines are closer in time, peo-
article we illustrate the importance of time
ple work faster to complete the job. However,
with regard to the three most central compo-
after a certain point, shortening deadlines re-
nents of goal-setting theory (e.g., Locke &
duces performance, which is especially true in
Latham, 1990, 2002)— goal difficulty, goal at-
complex jobs (e.g., Bluedorn & Denhardt, 1988;
Locke, 1996). Research has supported this no-
tainability, and goal specificity—and we also
tion of the contingent effect of deadlines such
discuss methodological considerations. Note
that deadlines with insufficient time tend to
that, because goal-setting theory reflects pri-
lead to less effective performance (Bluedorn &
marily the future-oriented values of individual
Denhardt, 1998; Locke, 1996). We later discuss
goal achievement, which are most prevalent
this issue of the relative effectiveness of dead-
(though in varying degrees) in North America
lines in different contexts.
and Western European societies, the focus of
Another time-related issue discussed in the
our discussion is on the contribution of time to
theory is the pattern of employees’ choice of
goal setting in such achievement-oriented
future goal levels following a failure or success
societies.

408
Academy of Management Review
July
TIME AND GOAL DIFFICULTY
ure. Their strong involvement in these projects
may be largely based on the expectation that
Incorporating the concept of time may chal-
producing a sufficient number of publications is
lenge some key assumptions in goal-setting the-
the key to receiving tenure and that gaining
ory concerning the role of difficult (i.e., challeng-
tenure will enable them to pursue a more chal-
ing) goals in contributing to employee efforts
lenging research agenda. In yet another and
and performance. We now address how the dif-
somewhat different example, students who aim
ferent facets of the context of time may affect the
to complete a degree in order to join the labor
motivating power of challenging versus non-
market may be involved in a temporary job, such
challenging goals, the prioritization of goals at
as waiting tables. Once again, these students
work, and the prioritization of coexisting work
are likely to be motivated to do well in this
and non-work-related goals.
typically nonchallenging job in order to support
their studies. They further expect that the com-
pletion of their degree will provide them oppor-
Time and the Motivational Qualities of
tunities to gain access to potentially challeng-
Challenging and Nonchallenging Goals
ing positions.
Hierarchy of goals. The idea that challenging
While the preceding three examples focus on
goals will contribute to higher work motivation
developmental periods of employees relatively
and performance (as long as they are attain-
early in their careers, the phenomenon of goal
able) relative to simpler goals may not always
hierarchies may also be relevant to people in
be true but, rather, may be contingent on the
later career stages. To illustrate, employees in
time context in which the particular goal is be-
transition, who intend to change their occupa-
ing pursued. This time contingency is specifi-
tion, may have to spend a period of time in less
cally related here to the differential relation-
challenging assignments as part of the develop-
ships between particular goals and other
mental process for their future employment.
parallel or futuristic goals.
Hierarchy of goals and subjective time per-
Control theory (Carver & Scheier, 1981; Klein,
spective. In all of the above examples (on-the-
1989) suggests that behavior is complex and can
job training of managers, scholarly develop-
be explained by hierarchies of feedback loops.
ment of young professors, part-time jobs for
In such hierarchies, meeting one goal success-
students in college, and career transition peri-
fully could be part of the input to a higher-order
ods for employees), linear external clock time
goal. In the work environment, this means that
separates two sequential time periods: the first
employees may use clock time as a basis for
involves tasks with relatively low challenge,
pursuing sequential goals, which differ in their
whereas the second is characterized by signifi-
level of difficulty. Thus, they may work hard and
cantly more challenging tasks. However, we fur-
function well with less challenging goals if they
ther argue that in these and other similar exam-
perceive the accomplishment of these goals is a
ples in American and other Western societies,
necessary step in pursuing more difficult and
people’s ability to effectively adjust and pursue
challenging future goals (cf. Bluedorn & Den-
these transitions is largely contingent on their
hardt, 1988; Raynor, 1974).
adherence to a future-oriented time perspective.
For example, as part of their training, man-
That is, the first time period (involvement in
ager trainees may be asked to rotate among
less challenging goals) tends to be subjectively
different functional units, some of which may
defined by the participants as a transitory (pass-
involve simple, nonchallenging goals. These
ing) present, which serves as a stepping-stone to
managers, however, are expected to be highly
the desired future. This desired future state is
motivated to do well in all their assignments
characterized in people’s subjective perspective
because of their expectations, ultimately, to
as offering ample opportunities for involvement
move on to challenging management positions.
in challenging jobs. Thus, although jobs differ in
Similarly, nontenured assistant professors in re-
how long in clock time the transitory passing
search universities are likely to be motivated by
“present” will last (e.g., typically, a few months
productive yet less challenging and complex re-
to a year for management trainees, from five to
search projects in order to ensure they produce a
seven years for assistant professors, and a few
sufficient number of publications for getting ten-
years for those who wait tables until completing

2004
Fried and Slowik
409
their degree), subjectively, for the involved par-
mate it will take them a significantly longer
ticipants this time period, regardless of its clock
time to reach their desired futuristic plan than is
time duration, is characterized as a holistic,
the norm in the organization, industry, or profes-
transitory (passing) “present,” prior to the move
sion. They may choose not to pursue this career
to the desired future.
path because of their concerns that the length of
The subjective definition of “present” versus
time taken to reach the desired position may
“future” time is largely determined by the norms
stigmatize their potential in the eyes of superi-
in each occupation concerning the time period
ors and peers and, thus, adversely affect their
before one expects to move from the present
ability to flourish in the new position or to pur-
transitory period featuring relatively nonchal-
sue other career moves (cf. Hassard, 1996).
lenging jobs to the future period featuring chal-
Career opportunities. Not all organizations or
lenging jobs. Typically, more complex jobs in-
occupations offer the same opportunities for fu-
volve longer developmental periods featuring
ture growth. For example, managerial and pro-
less challenging tasks and, thus, longer experi-
fessional jobs potentially offer more opportuni-
ences of a passing “present” time period (cf.
ties for growth over one’s clock time– based
Jaques, 1982). This perception of the develop-
career than blue collar production jobs (cf.
mental time period as a passing (transitory)
Jaques, 1982). Thus, we expect that organiza-
“present,” linked to a potentially “infinite” fu-
tional and occupational opportunities for
ture time period featuring challenging tasks, re-
growth will affect employees’ pursuit of futuris-
flects the futuristic perspective of American and
tic-oriented job plans (cf. Jaques, 1982).
Western cultures. It may serve as a helpful psy-
Growth need strength. Some people have
chological mechanism for employees coping
strong needs for personal accomplishments,
with the transition process between the two time
learning, and personal development beyond
periods (cf. McGrath & Rotchford, 1983).
their current level. Thus, these people have
Hierarchy of goals and personal and contex-
strong “growth need” (Hackman & Oldham,
tual variables. Individuals’ decisions regarding
1980). Other people have weaker needs for
whether to pursue a hierarchy of goals across
growth and, thus, will be less motivated to take
time may be contingent on time-related per-
advantage of career opportunities to grow
sonal and contextual variables. These vari-
(Hackman & Oldham, 2002). It is conceivable
ables, some of which correspond to the relativ-
that people who are high in growth need will be
istic (subjective) time concept and some of
inclined to be involved in nonchallenging tasks
which correspond to the clock time concept, are
only as a learning transitory period, before be-
discussed below.
ing given the opportunity to be involved in chal-
Career stages. We can discuss pursuing a se-
lenging tasks. In contrast, people who are low in
quence of goals over time in reference to em-
growth need are more likely to be satisfied with
ployee careers (e.g., Hassard, 1996). That is, pur-
being engaged in the less challenging tasks on
suing goals over time serves as the basis for
a permanent basis (Hackman & Oldham, 1980).
one’s career, which in modern society has an
Individual future orientation. While American
important social meaning (Hassard, 1996). Based
and Western societies are characterized by a
on the relational concept of time, organizations
future orientation, individuals differ in their
and employees assess the progress of people on
level on this variable. People who are high in
the career ladder from one status to another in
growth need strength may differ in how much
reference to a socially constructed time chart,
time and effort they are ready to endure in order
indicating whether career progress is on time,
to satisfy this need. Those with higher future
too slow, or faster based on these socially con-
orientation are more likely to take a long-term
structed norms.
career perspective than people with lower fu-
Society attributes relatively fast advancement
ture orientation. The former would therefore
to individuals’ higher skills, qualities, and char-
show a higher tendency to be effectively en-
acteristics. In contrast, slower than normal ad-
gaged in simpler, nonchallenging assignments
vancement is often attributed to lower capabil-
for a relatively long period of (clock) time. This is
ities and skills (cf. Hassard, 1996). Given that,
because of their futuristic time perspective, as-
one would expect that employees will be less
sociated with their inclination to subjectively
inclined to pursue futuristic plans if they esti-
perceive these tasks as a temporary (transitory)

410
Academy of Management Review
July
step toward future involvement in more chal-
Hypothesis 1: Individuals will be in-
lenging tasks. In contrast, people with lower
clined to pursue a career path in
future orientation tend to evaluate life and work
which involvement in nonchallenging
events in reference to the present or very near
tasks serves as stepping-stones for
future, rather than as a link to a distant future.
more challenging future tasks, if the
Consequently, these people will search for
following occur: their future time
growth opportunities at the present time and
plans do not exceed the socially con-
will be reluctant to be involved for very long in
structed norms of appropriate career
transitory, simpler, nonchallenging tasks (cf.
progression, career growth opportuni-
Bluedorn & Denhardt, 1988; Nuttin, 1964; Raynor,
ties are prevalent, their growth need
1974).
is high, their time orientation is futur-
Organizational culture. As Schriber and
istic in nature (owing to personal ori-
Gutek (1987) have indicated, organizations, even
entation and/or futuristic organization-
within the same futuristic culture, tend to differ
al culture), and future business
in the degree to which they are oriented toward
prospects and the history of organiza-
the future. While some organizations emphasize
tional support are positive.
investment in and planning for the future, other
organizations lag in this area. It is conceivable
Time and the Prioritization of Goals at Work:
that employees in organizations with a strong
Multiple Tasks and Time Allocation
future orientation will be more inclined to pur-
sue a futuristic strategy in comparison to people
A number of scholars researching time in or-
employed in organizations with a weaker futur-
ganizations have pointed out that a major time
istic orientation. The former would therefore be
problem for employees is the demand to pursue
more inclined than the latter to be involved in
two or more tasks simultaneously (e.g., Hassard,
nonchallenging tasks as transitory learning ex-
1996; McGrath & Rotchford, 1983). The stress lit-
periences, which act as stepping-stones toward
erature indicates that continuous exposure to
more challenging future jobs.
high-level cognitive demands adversely affects
Future business prospects. We further expect
employees’ health and performance (e.g., Co-
that employees will be more inclined toward
hen, 1980; Fried, Melamed, & Ben-David, 2002;
futuristic planning when they interpret the cur-
Kahn & Byosiere, 1992). This means that there is
rent economic and business indicators to sug-
a limit to the ability of employees to success-
gest that the prospect of the organization to sur-
fully pursue multiple challenging goals that
vive and be prosperous in future (clock) time is
heavily tax their cognitive resources (Cohen,
strong, rather than weak or questionable (cf.
1980; Drach-Zahavy & Erez, 2002).
Das, 1987). Alternatively, employees may choose
The most effective solution to this problem is
to be involved in nonchallenging tasks, even if
the use of (clock) time reallocation, which is the
future business prospects of the organization
rescheduling of one or more of these activities
are bleak, if they perceive that their involvement
(e.g., Hassard, 1996; McGrath & Rotchford, 1983).
in nonchallenging jobs may serve as stepping-
However, given the common scarcity of objective
stones for challenging jobs in other organiza-
time in organizations, this solution may not al-
tions.
ways be feasible (Hassard, 1996). Therefore, an-
History of organizational support. Moreover,
other potential solution is to mix tasks in a par-
the level of past organizational support over
ticular (clock) time period such that some are
(clock) time is also an important factor. If man-
challenging and others simpler (cf. McGrath &
agement has historically been supportive of
Rotchford, 1983).
both the focal employee and employees’ long-
It is conceivable that employees could benefit
term careers in general, and if its present and
from a situation in which only some of the work
projected (perceived) future support are consis-
assignments are challenging and cognitively
tent with those high levels of support, then em-
demanding, whereas others are simple and do
ployees will be more inclined to commit to and
not require much attention. To help employees
pursue longer-term career planning that prom-
accomplish challenging assignments, organiza-
ises more challenging goals (cf. McGrath &
tions and/or employees may simplify some of
Rotchford, 1983).
the assignments (cf. McGrath & Rotchford, 1983).

2004
Fried and Slowik
411
To illustrate, nontenured professors are often
The strain level associated with time alloca-
assigned to teach the same one or two classes
tion across different roles has significantly in-
until they receive their tenure. This frees them to
creased in past decades because of the rapid
concentrate on their research, which is the most
changes in social structure, such as the in-
important basis for receiving tenure. Although
creased number of dual career families or work-
teaching the same classes repeatedly over sev-
ing single mothers (e.g., Major, Klein, & Ehrhart,
eral years, with few or no changes, can easily
2002). These changes have significantly reduced
become boring and uninspiring, nontenured
people’s ability to pursue their family role suc-
professors may be highly motivated to teach
cessfully within the allocated family time (cf.
them well so as to assure positive teaching eval-
Major et al., 2002). Indeed, studies in the area of
uations, which will free them to invest most of
work-family conflict have shown that time in-
their cognitive resources in pursuing their re-
vested at work tends to adversely affect time
search agenda. On receiving tenure, these fac-
devoted to household tasks and parental role
ulty members are typically expected to be in-
activities (e.g., Major et al., 2002; Staines, 1980).
volved in teaching stimulating seminars or
To enhance their involvement at home, people
preparing new timely elective classes, which
may consider pursuing a number of steps in
will significantly raise the experience of chal-
order to reduce their allocated (clock) time at
lenge associated with the teaching mission.
work and to increase their time allocation at
Organizations may also consider the possibil-
home. For example, some researchers suggest
ity of dividing some of the tasks into small, sim-
that work-family conflicts may enhance the fre-
pler segments that can be matched during a
quency of taking a leave of absence from work,
particular time frame with other more challeng-
quitting, or switching jobs (e.g., Frone, Russell, &
ing tasks (Hassard, 1996; McGrath & Rotchford,
Cooper, 1992; Steers & Rhodes, 1978; Thomas &
1983). Here again, we expect the reduced level of
Ganster, 1995). For instance, a single profes-
cognitive demands through the combination of
sional mother who is busy raising young chil-
simpler and challenging tasks to enhance em-
dren may be satisfied with less challenging but
ployees’ capabilities to successfully pursue
flexible work, because that arrangement facili-
these multiple tasks during a defined clock time
tates her efforts to raise her children properly.
period.
However, after the children have grown, she
may seek more challenging and demanding
Hypothesis 2: Employees will be moti-
work.
vated and committed to pursue sim-
Similarly, a married professional couple may
pler, less challenging tasks if pursu-
compromise on the challenge and interest levels
ing these less challenging tasks
of their jobs, as long as they are able to work in
facilitates the pursuit of other impor-
the same organization and the same location,
tant and challenging goals.
commute together, and raise their family to-
gether. It may be, however, that after the chil-
dren are grown, this couple will look for other
Time and the Prioritization of Work and Non-
ways to meet their professional aspirations and
Work-Related Goals: Dual Career Goals and
family demands. They may, for example, be
Time Allocation
ready to go to different organizations that offer
In modern societies adults are likely to divide
them more professional opportunities, as long
their (clock) time among multiple roles, includ-
as they can comfortably commute to see each
ing work, family, recreation, and religion (Has-
other on a regular basis.
sard, 1996). Involvement in these multiple roles
The above analysis should not negate the fact
is based on sophisticated and precise alloca-
that people’s ability to balance career- and
tions of clock time, with the aim of effectively
family-oriented goals, as well as the amount of
synchronizing all these roles in a narrow and
time they can devote to family matters at the
scarce time (Hassard, 1996). This tight division of
expense of work, is expected to be largely de-
scarce time among different roles can often in-
pendent on such personal and contextual vari-
crease the perceived scarcity of time in each
ables as their financial ability, family needs,
role and the strain associated with pursuing the
organizational policy concerning the issue of
different roles (Hassard, 1996).
leave, projections of future needs for employee

412
Academy of Management Review
July
skills, personal growth need, and time orienta-
exposure to demanding (challenging) tasks over
tion. However, because of space constraints, we
time is likely to tax people’s cognitive capacity,
do not elaborate on the mitigating effects of
contribute to stress and strain, and conse-
these variables and, thus, hypothesize the fol-
quently adversely affect health and perfor-
lowing normative hypothesis.
mance (e.g., Cohen, 1980; Fried et al., 2002; Kahn
& Byosiere, 1992). This evidence therefore sug-
Hypothesis 3: Employees will be in-
gests that employees’ performance will be bet-
clined to pursue, for some period of
ter if their involvement in challenging tasks is
time, simpler, less challenging tasks if
moderately frequent, although the exact fre-
being involved in these tasks frees
quency is an issue for future research, as noted
them to pursue other more important
above.
personal goals during that time.
Hypothesis 4: Employees’ involvement
in challenging tasks over an extended

Time Intervals and Challenging Goals
period of time, without sufficient time
intervals between them, will result in

High versus low frequency of challenging
deterioration of their ability to per-
goals. While research has supported the idea
form. In contrast, employees’ involve-
that performance will increase if employees are
ment in challenging goals over an ex-
pursuing reasonably challenging goals (e.g.,
tended period of time, with sufficient
Locke & Latham, 1990, 2002), in theory and re-
time intervals between them, should
lated research, scholars have failed to system-
help maintain satisfactory work per-
atically discuss whether involvement in such
formance.
challenging goals will be consistently benefi-
cial over time. The basic question here is as
Desired time intervals between assignments:
follows: Will employees’ performance be maxi-
The influence of career stages and growth need
mized if they are involved in challenging tasks
strength. Although research has failed to pro-
all the time, or if they are involved in challeng-
vide sufficient information on how long the
ing work only part of the time? If the latter al-
(clock) time intervals between different assign-
ternative is more valid, it raises a related ques-
ments should be to facilitate the successful pur-
tion of what time interval between challenging
suit of assignments, it is conceivable that what
tasks most effectively enables focal employees
constitutes the best frequency will differ among
to maximize their efforts and performance (cf.
individuals, based on personal and contextual
George & Jones, 2000).
variables. A relevant contextual variable is em-
Mainemelis (2001) suggests that exposing em-
ployee career stage (Hassard, 1996), and a rele-
ployees to challenging goals more frequently
vant personal variable is growth need strength
can potentially give momentum to new ideas
(Hackman & Oldham, 1980).
and prevent degradation of skills. That is, con-
Evidence suggests that, in the later stages of
sistent with the relational perspective of time,
their careers, employees are less interested and
employees who are involved with challenging
motivated to be involved in challenging, com-
tasks tend to be entirely absorbed with the job,
plex tasks than they were in the early stages of
so time as an experience ceases to exist (Csik-
their careers (Katz, 1978, 1980). Research also
szentmihalyi, 1990; Mainemelis, 2001). Such a
suggests that individuals with low growth need
state of engrossment is expected to produce new
are less interested in challenging tasks than are
ideas and insight beneficial to successful ac-
their counterparts with higher growth need
complishments of challenging tasks (Maineme-
(Fried & Ferris, 1987; Hackman & Oldham, 1980).
lis, 2001). However, as Mainemelis points out,
Thus, those with low growth need are expected
the experience of engrossment is intermittent,
to perceive frequent involvement in challenging
especially in the modern, fast-paced, multitask
tasks as time consuming and stressful, contrib-
environment, because of such constraints as
uting to the subjective experience of work time
limits of the workday, physical fatigue, and mul-
as long and moving slowly (cf. Zaheer et al.,
tiple transitions between tasks (see also Ash-
1999). This experience of time dragging, in turn,
forth & Kreiner, 1999). Moreover, as already indi-
will further reduce these people’s energy and
cated, the literature on stress demonstrates that
motivation to pursue frequent challenging tasks

2004
Fried and Slowik
413
(cf. Csikszentmihalyi, 1990; Mainemelis, 2001;
longer. For example, preparing for Christmas
Slife, 1993; Zaheer et al., 1999).
remains an exciting event in part because it is
celebrated only once a year.
Hypothesis 5: Individuals in earlier
Another potential factor is whether the cycli-
stages of their career, or with higher
cal task repeats itself over time without any
growth need strength, are more likely
change, or whether novelty is added (cf. Gersick
to function effectively in challenging
& Hackman, 1990; Weiss & Ilgen, 1985). One can
assignments with relatively brief time
assume that challenge is more likely to be main-
intervals between them, compared to
tained if novel aspects are added to the task. For
their counterparts in later career
example, accountants often have to study new
stages, or with lower growth need
tax codes as a basis for completing tax returns.
strength.
Intervention by management in changing the
Cyclical tasks: How challenging are they?
process or criteria of operations also may affect
Many of the activities and tasks at work are
the challenge level of cyclical tasks (cf. Gersick
cyclical in nature (Clark, 1985; McGrath & Rotch-
& Hackman, 1990; Weiss & Ilgen, 1985). For in-
ford, 1983). For example, accounting business
stance, if management suddenly instructs em-
cycles largely determine the goals accountants
ployees to cut task completion time, employees
are given to accomplish. Accountants are typi-
will be stimulated to look for new ways of oper-
cally involved in assignments related to busi-
ating. Similarly, experiencing sudden failure in
ness and individual tax returns during the peak
task completion (e.g., because of reduced organ-
of tax season, while during the remaining time
izational support or changes in personnel) may
of the year they are involved in more routine
also contribute to maintaining challenge, as em-
preparations for the next business cycle.
ployees attempt to find ways to accomplish
An important question regarding cyclical
tasks successfully again (cf. Gersick & Hack-
tasks is how long cyclical (repetitive) tasks re-
man, 1990; Weiss & Ilgen, 1985).
main challenging for focal employees. Given
the benefit of challenging tasks both to the em-
Hypothesis 6: Cyclical tasks are more
ployee and organizations, this is an important
likely to maintain their initial state of
question—a question related to the issue of task
challenge longer if their inherent
habituation as discussed in the literature on
complexity level is high rather than
both individual and team work (e.g., Gersick,
moderate, the time interval between
1989; Gersick & Hackman, 1990; Katz, 1978, 1980;
the reoccurrence of the task is larger
Weiss & Ilgen, 1985). Katz (1978, 1980) indicated
rather than smaller, novel aspects are
that as individuals habituate to a particular
added in different cycles, and organi-
level of task challenge (complexity), their re-
zational intervention leads to change
sponsiveness to these tasks tends to diminish.
in operation or to sudden failure of
The question, therefore, is how many times will
task completion.
employees complete a particular task before
reaching a level of habituation that reduces the
TIME AND THE ATTAINABILITY OF GOALS
task’s challenge? Goal-setting theory does not
focus on this issue, but one can refer to the job
Goal-setting theory states that for goals to be
complexity literature and habituation literature
motivational, they must not only be specific and
to get some potential answers.
challenging but also achievable or attainable.
It is conceivable, for example, that the higher
Once again, the relative importance of goal
the level of task complexity, the greater the
achievability to employee motivation and ef-
number of times one should be involved in com-
forts may be mitigated by time. Employees may
pleting the task before the experience of habit-
be encouraged to adopt or commit to risky goals
uation emerges (cf. Hackman & Oldham, 1980;
with lower likelihood of achieving them if the
Katz, 1978, 1980). Moreover, it is also likely that
valence associated with achieving these goals
the time interval before the task repeats itself
is high and if the failure to achieve them is
will affect how long the task remains challeng-
considered by the focal individuals and their
ing. The longer the interval, the greater the like-
organizations to be temporary and potentially
lihood the task will keep its “challenging flavor”
correctable in future time (cf. Abelson & Levi,

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