Over the next few weeks, we will be doing a series on accountability, especially as it relates to achieving goals, reaching milestones, and meeting responsibilities. In this post, we take a fresh look at how setting goals and having accountability measures work together using Locke and Latham’s 5 principles strategy.
In our post about SMART Goals, we discussed how expressing specific, measurable, attainable, and time-bound goals is one method that supports being active, engaged, and deadline-driven about your plans.
Dr Edwin Locke and Dr Larry Latham, specialists in psychology and organizational behavior, identified 5 key principles that underpin the successful achievement of goals: clarity, challenge, commitment, feedback, and task complexity. Over the course of their research, they have observed that consistent motivation and public accountability are 2 important factors for sustaining people to achieve their plans. Locke and Latham’s approach applies a strategic planning concept to goal setting.
This is closely linked to specific in the SMART method. Your goal should be something that you can clearly identify, define, plan for, and then measure your progress as you work to complete your plan. Goals that are vague or lack clear deliverables are difficult to achieve. This is not to be confused with having a dream or idea, which can initially be aspirational and not very specific. When you set a goal, you are taking the steps to formulate and actualize your dreams and aspirations into something that is attainable. Attainable does not mean that a goal is easy, it means that you have mapped a path, or an obstacle course, to move from the dream phase to the planning, action, and completion stages.
Locke and Latham recommend that while goals should be attainable, achieving them should provide one with a challenge. They should ideally have a level of complexity that pushes you to bring you’re a-game. If the goal is too simple, it may not motivate you sufficiently and you could lose interest along the way. You may not feel a great sense of achievement if your goal is too simple and too easy to achieve. The idea is that when you succeed at something that you have to work hard for and overcome challenges, you perceive your success as a greater reward than if you didn’t push yourself beyond your comfort zone. However, as one of our featured entrepreneurs shared, having incremental goals – goals that go from simple to more challenging – can initially help you to build confidence in your ability to achieve what you set out to do and motivate you to aim for the more ambitious dreams. Starting with an incremental approach helps you to build discipline especially if you are new at goal setting.
Accountability is a very strong determinant of successful goal achievement. When you believe in something and outcome is significant to you, you are more likely to feel committed towards achieving what you set out to. For example, if you want to pursue a career in the coding-related field, you need to have a strong foundation in mathematics and science. If you love coding because you are passionate about let’s say finding digital solutions to tracking information in a certain sector, for example, data systems for epidemiology, and you see yourself being in that specific area of work the idea is you will feel a greater sense of commitment to each level in your goal setting plan. This would be from having a study plan for your mathematics and science subjects to identifying fields of tertiary study, building networks with people in your professional field, and working on programs that build your skills. The personal significance of the goal, to work in data management in the field of epidemiology, will inform your commitment to each level you need to complete to be able to access the field starting with your school study plan.
Along the way, you need to check in on your progress and the status of your goal. If you have an accountability partner or mentor who is helping you, then the feedback can be done with them. You can do the feedback as a self-reflective exercise where you are checking on milestones reached, whether you are sticking to your proposed timelines and whether you had to or still have to adjust your plans to account for any changes in circumstances or new information. It is best to have regular feedback sessions so that you know where you are in the journey. You need to assess whether the steps in your plan are working or whether they need review and that your time investment is sufficient. The feedback principle is effective because it increases the level of accountability.
Locke and Latham maintain that setting ambitious and complex goals actually makes you more likely to pursue them and work sustainably to achieve them. In order to remain committed to the more complex, time-consuming, and long-term goals it helps to set sub-goals. To do this, you break down the timeline and milestones into less complex steps that lead to the completion of the big goal. Here you can utilize the incremental approach so that each step is leading into another and building towards more complex progression.
Locke and Latham’s view is that the more challenging and high-level your goals are, the more committed, motivated, and accountable you will feel. Accountability is widely recognized as one of the most important factors for motivating individuals, teams, and workgroups (governments and corporations even) to achieve their stated goals. Accountability affects levels of commitment and motivation. As you set and review your goals, make sure to factor in accountability steps so that you increase the likelihood of fully achieving them.