Goal-setting theory, self-efficacy and reinforcement.


Motivation Methods

Examine the significant similarities and differences of goal-setting theory, self-efficacy, and reinforcement.

  • Which theory do you believe most closely aligns with your current or future approach to motivating employees?
  • Provide at least one example that demonstrates your approach to employee motivation.


Examine the significant similarities and differences of goal-setting theory, self-efficacy, and reinforcement

Goal-setting theory propounds the idea that challenging, specific, and context appropriate goals with a certain level of immediacy are critical towards motivating behavior (Robbins, Judge, Millett, & Boyle, 2013). In addition, feedback plays a critical role in enhancing the behavior of individuals. The theory holds that goal specificity creates a stronger internal stimulus among individuals to perform better and efficiently compared to generalizations. Challenging goals energize individuals since they have to work harder to achieve intended results (Robbins et al., 2013). Further, challenging goals leads employees into discovering new ways of doing things. Context appropriate goals refer to the suitability of goals in the particular situation. Another important aspect of goal-setting theory is feedback. Feedback enables individuals to assess how they are progressing towards achieving their goals.

Self-efficacy theory

Self-efficacy theory holds that individuals who strongly believe that they can perform certain tasks have higher motivation levels (Schermerhorn, 2011). Self-efficacy concerns an individual’s competency, abilities (as defined by skills), and self-confidence levels. Organizational leaders who work towards improving the self-efficacy feelings of employees are more likely to realized increased motivation levels in the organization. Employees with high self-efficacy levels are likely to undertake challenging tasks and show persistence in accomplishing their goals. Reinforcement theory views employee motivation as guided by environmental consequences (Schermerhorn, 2011). In other words, behavior that results to positive outcomes leads to high motivation while behavior that results to unpleasant outcomes leads to lower motivation. Individuals are likely to repeat behavior that leads to positive outcomes.

Goal-setting theory, self-efficacy theory, and reinforcement theory

Goal-setting theory, self-efficacy theory, and reinforcement theory have a number of similarities as well as differences. The three theories provide a useful means for evaluating factors that initiate and sustain behavior among individuals. The theories focus on the factors that strengthen behavior and increase the chances that an individual will repeat the behavior. Goal-setting and self-efficacy theories are needs based theories (In Reiners & In Wood, 2015). Needs based theories claim that employees have various core needs that must be satisfied before the employee feels motivated. These theories focus on intrinsic motivation. The theories help in evaluating the factors within individuals that may cause them to act in a particular way. This is the self-motivation aspect of the two theories.

Differences between  goal-setting theory, self-efficacy, and reinforcement

The theories have a number of differences. Goal-setting and self-efficacy theories explain why individuals do things with regard to needs satisfaction and felt inequities respectively. Reinforcement theory takes a different approach from the two by claiming that motivation is a product of the environmental consequences (Schermerhorn, 2011). Goal-setting and self-efficacy theories focus on the individual as the source of motivation. On the other hand, reinforcement theory considers the external environment as the determining factor for motivation (Schermerhorn, 2011). Goal-setting and self-efficacy theories focus on the factors that initiate behavior or lead individuals to behave in a certain way. On the other hand, reinforcement theory does not focus on the forces that initiate behavior. Rather, the theory focuses on the environmental consequences of an individual’s actions to his/her behavior.

The theory that closely aligns with my current and future approach to motivating employees is the reinforcement theory. There are four strategies under reinforcement theory for motivating behavior. The four are positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, punishment, and lastly extinction (Schermerhorn, 2011). Positive reinforcement refers to the introduction of positive consequences whenever an individual shows desired behavior. Negative reinforcement involves the withdrawal of negative consequences once an individual shows desired behavior (Schermerhorn, 2011). Punishment refers to the introduction of a negative consequence when an individual acts in an undesired way (Schermerhorn, 2011). Extinction refers the withdrawal of a pleasant consequence. All these strategies under the reinforcement theory help in encouraging positive behavior among the employees. The application of any one strategy depends on the particular situation facing the organizational leader. The organizational leader may apply a combination or all of the four strategies in motivating employees.

Application of reinforcement theory

From above, the application of reinforcement theory can be critical in motivating the workforce. Positive reinforcement can help in increasing the occurrence of positive behavior. For example, a manager can apply positive reinforcement by appreciating an employee who used to be habitually late but starts coming to work early. Appreciating the employee can help in motivating him/her further to arrive at work on time. An organizational leader can also apply punishment as a way of motivating employees. For instance, a leader may write a warning letter to an employee whose careless mistakes have led loss of cash. A manager may also use negative reinforcement to shape behavior. For example, the manager may nag an employee whose desk appears disorganized to encourage the employee to appear tidy. If the employee organizes his/her desk, the manager seizes to nag the employee about the disorganized desk.


In Reiners, T., & In Wood, L. C. (2015). Gamification in education and business. Retrieved from http://www.worldcat.org/title/gamification-in-education-and-business/oclc/899000643

Robbins, S., Judge, T. A., Millett, B., & Boyle, M. (2013). Organisational behaviour. Pearson Higher Education AU.

Schermerhorn, J. R. (2011). Introduction to management. Hoboken, N.J: Wiley.