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Motivation Works Best With Final Goal In Mind, Stanford Finds

Motivation Goal Stanford

The Stanford Graduate School of Business recently published new research from Assistant Marketing Professor Szu-chi Huang on when and how people are motivated–intel that could prove extremely valuable to any company “that incorporates goal-setting, uses incentive programs to motivate employees or has a loyalty program in which customers accumulate points.”

Slated for publication in the July 2017 issue of Organization Behavior and Human Decision Processes journal, Huang’s study illuminates how the pursuit of goals can be a dynamic process. “When you are just starting a pursuit, feeling reassured that it’s actually doable is important, and achieving a sub-goal increases that sense of attainability. To avoid coasting and becoming distracted, they need to focus on that final goal to see value in their actions.”

Huang explains that people tend to “benefit from concentrating on small ‘sub-goals’ in the early stages of a pursuit, but should focus instead of the larger objective in the late stages.”

In one study, the researchers–Huang along with Fudan University’s Liyin Jin and Peking University’s Ying Zhang–collaborated with a “crowd-sourced marketing company on a project in which workers were paid to upload information such as the price and title of books in local bookstores.”

The researchers found by “tracking participants’ uploading activity on a daily basis” that all three groups “started out highly motivated, but those given the sub-goals followed by the larger goal declined over the first four days and then became highly active during the final four.” Huang explains, “We found the hybrid plan the most motivating. People uploaded more and were more successful in reaching their final goal.”

Huang explains that “companies may be able to keep customers motivated by altering their messaging so it shifts customers’ focus from the sub-goals to the larger objective.”

“Marketers and companies tend to think of [goal pursuit] as a static process, assuming that what motivates people at the beginning is the same as what helps them finish. But what motivates people changes, so the structure of the goal should change accordingly.”

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About the Author

Jonathan Pfeffer
Jonathan Pfeffer

Jonathan Pfeffer joined the Clear Admit and MetroMBA teams in 2015 after spending several years as an arts/culture writer, editor, and radio producer. In addition to his role as contributing writer at MetroMBA and contributing editor at Clear Admit, he is co-founder and lead producer of the Clear Admit MBA Admissions Podcast. He holds a BA in Film/Video, Ethnomusicology, and Media Studies from Oberlin College.

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