The dark side of consecutive high performance goals: Linking goal setting, depletion, and unethical behavior

David T. Welsh, Lisa D. Ordóñez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

70 Scopus citations

Abstract

Over 40 years of research on the effects of goal setting has demonstrated that high goals can increase performance by motivating people, directing their attention to a target, and increasing their persistence (Locke & Latham, 2002). However, recent research has introduced a dark side of goal setting by linking high performance goals to unethical behavior (e.g., Schweitzer, Ordóñez, & Douma, 2004). In this paper, we integrate self-regulatory resource theories with behavioral ethics research exploring the dark side of goal setting to suggest that the very mechanisms through which goals are theorized to increase performance can lead to unethical behavior by depleting self-regulatory resources across consecutive goal periods. Results of a laboratory experiment utilizing high, low, increasing, decreasing, and "do your best" goal structures across multiple rounds provide evidence that depletion mediates the relationship between goal structures and unethical behavior, and that this effect is moderated by the number of consecutive goals assigned.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)79-89
Number of pages11
JournalOrganizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes
Volume123
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 1 2014

Keywords

  • Behavioral ethics
  • Depletion
  • Goal setting
  • Self-regulation
  • Unethical behavior

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management

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