The below analysis will give an insight into the process adopted by a software company called Symbol Technologies to motivate its employees. The analysis will outline the Goal-setting technique of Locke and Latham (Vroom & Deci 1992) and will demonstrate the use of this theory at Symbol to motivate employees.
The central idea conveyed is how best the goal-setting technique can be implemented. In order to achieve this, the overall analysis has been structured into four parts: brief description about motivation & in particular the goal-setting technique, the process followed at Symbol using this technique, confirming the application of this theory, and then building an argument between the best practice and the implementation.
Motivation at Symbol Technologies
Motivation can be considered as a bridge that connects between human beings and their goals. This analogy has been used at Symbol Technologies, where I worked for 4 years. Symbol, which was once the leading company in producing barcode readers, got acquired by Motorola in the year 2007.
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Goal-setting theory is a Process theory, which focuses on how we make choices with respect to desired goals and gives the individual a cognitive decision making role in selecting goals and also the means by which goals can be pursued (Huczynski and Buchanan, 2007 p.248).
This theory lays emphasis on setting SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound) goals at workplace (Huczynski and Buchanan 2007). The goal-setting technique has been broken down in to the following steps: First, Setting goal. The goal set must have two main characteristics. It should be specific rather than vague and it should be challenging yet reachable (Steers and Porter, 1975 p.129). Second, the goal must be accepted by both employee and immediate supervisor through a participative approach. Finally, the manager has to give timely feedback to the employee on the performance of the goal. All these activities when performed accordingly will lead to higher productivity. However, the other attribute that triggers motivation within human beings is the reward. Rewards could be either intrinsic or extrinsic (Steers and Potter 1975) and they act as motivation catalyst.
Symbol follows the above Goal-setting technique in order to motivate its employees to perform better.
Implementation at Symbol Technologies
Goal-setting technique takes a predominant position in motivating employees at Symbol Technologies. The framework of this theory has been tailored to the needs of the Company's Performance Management process. The process followed is:
The CEO of the company sets the overall goal/objective at the beginning of each year. The goal is set in such a way that it is specific to the organization and time bound. This means the goal is Specific and carries a vision.
The above specific goal is then passed on to all business divisions. The top level leaders will take the initiative to make the goal more Challenging to their respective divisions and once done, they will pass it on to their managers.
The manager then discusses the goal with each individual employee who reports to him/her and assigns the goal.
Finally, at the year end, manager will discuss the employee's activities and achievements and will provide a feedback.
If an employee's performance is satisfactory, then he will be rewarded accordingly. The rewards, for example salary & promotion, for the goal accomplishment are fixed (Cartwright et al 1998). This is as good as saying pay for performance is the incentive policy. Hence, it is evident that extrinsic rewards are the motivational factors. This is company's view on motivation. As an ex-employee at Symbol Technologies, the implementation of the above process has resulted in positive outcomes as well as some drawbacks.
Critique: Confirming the theory, identifying potential differences, & then suggesting best practice
Goal-setting theory has a profound effect on motivating employees at Symbol. Though the extent to which employees are motivated cannot be measured in numerical terms, it can be known from the way the company's business is performing and the reason for this is motivation is directly proportional to performance, which in turn is proportional to the productivity. Higher productivity yields greater prosperity. This is evident from the sales numbers, which went up by 5% in the year 2008 (Motorola 2008). In spite of this achievement, I strongly feel that the company has not implemented the goal-setting theory expeditiously.
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Below are the potential differences between the best practice of the theory and what has been implemented at Symbol:
First, the goal that is specific to the organization is set by the CEO of the company. The Company's management considers the goal to be reasonable in their perspective and assume that the goal has a vision. However, the goal that is set once for all may not be appealing and instigating to all employees. An example to demonstrate this is, few employees were keen to work on a relatively new technology but the objective required them to concentrate on the existing product and not shift scope to a relatively new technology. This was a setback to most employees' aspirations, including mine. On the other hand, for a company it is almost impossible to have a single goal that creates interest in everyone. Hence, the most feasible solution for the company is to give employees some degree of freedom in utilizing time, equipment, and way in which they want to proceed with the goal fulfilment. This is as good as giving the employee more of a chance to show what he/she can do (Luthans 2005). Remember, if the employees perceive the goals as a means of exploitation, they will reject the goals (Steers and Porter, 1975 p.130).
Second, the goal is first discussed with the employee before it is formally accepted by both parties. This process has lead to a better understanding of what the goal is all about, what challenges it includes, and what needs to be done in order to achieve it. This will give clarity to the employee and will try to eliminate most of the doubts about the objective and will address the concerns as well. Through formal discussion, employee will be motivated to do the task as he/she would know what to do and how to do. But the key issue over here is about the efficiency of managers. If the immediate supervisor fails to convince the employee then the whole purpose is defeated. Motivation without knowledge is useless (Steers and Porter 1975, p.132). For the effectiveness of this step, manager must assign the goal and then ask the employee to formulate an action plan for reaching the goal. By doing this, the manager will get know about knowledge deficiencies. At the same time, the manager can also analyse the ability, the commitment, and the willingness of the employee and then guide him/her accordingly.
Third, at Symbol technologies, performance appraisal happens to give genuine feedback to the employees about the extent to which their goals have been obtained. Combining goal setting with feedback brings even better results (Baron 1983). The concern with Symbol's methodology is that feedback session is conducted only at the year end. This means employee will have to work for 12 months without even knowing whether he/she is on the right track. If you are not on the right path, you will get to know only at the end and by then there won't be any opportunity for improvement. For the employees to remain motivated, it is required for the managers to give precise feedback at regular intervals so that the employee knows to what degree he's reaching or failing short of his goal. Based on this feedback the employee can adjust his level of effort or strategy accordingly (Steers and Porter 1975, p.132).
Finally, Symbol tries to motivate its workforce through Extrinsic motivation, which comes from outside the performer. Extrinsic motives are tangible and include pay, promotions, and other benefits (Luthans 2005, p.238). These extrinsic rewards inspire employees to achieve at higher levels. However, there is an added concern to this practice. In any organization, not all will be extrinsically motivated. For some employees, pay may lower their motivation to perform. The reason for this is such people are intrinsically motivated (Baron 1983). Intrinsic motives are internally generated and the rewards include feeling of accomplishment, feeling of being competitive, and willingness to achieve (Luthans 2005, p.238). The manager has to understand what each person's drives are and then try to motivate them. Like any other management tool, goal-setting works only when combined with good managerial judgement (Steers and Porter 1975, p.132).
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As a result of the above mentioned differences, I have witnessed following happening at Symbol:
Intrinsically motivated employees started to quit the company resulting in higher attrition.
Since the feedback was given only at the year end, most employees lost track and hence failed to perform satisfactorily.