Goal-setting and unethical behavior: The journey toward the goal matters
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Unethical behavior in the workplace causes harm to organizations and has a widespread impact on society. Recent studies show that difficult and specific goals can lead to unethical behavior. Specifically, studies show that individuals are more likely to lie about their performance when they receive a difficult and specific goal compared to when they receive an easy or vague goal. Moreover, they are more likely to do so when they miss the goal by a small margin compared to when they miss the goal by a large margin. However, decades of research has demonstrated that assigning a difficult and specific goal to employees leads to higher performance than assigning an easy or vague goal. This poses a dilemma regarding the use of difficult and specific goals: How can organizations improve employees’ performance without also increasing unethical behavior? Drawing on Control theory (Carver & Scheier, 1998) and Gestalt framework of dynamic experiences (Ariely & Carmon, 2003), we predicted that among individuals whose goal progress decelerates, missing the goal by a small margin (compared to a large margin) would have a weak effect on the extent to which they lie about their performance. On the other hand, we predicted that among individuals whose rate of goal progress is constant or accelerates over time, individuals who miss the goal by a small margin would be more likely to lie than individuals who miss the goal by a large margin. In two experimental studies, we found some support for our hypotheses.
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Midori Nishioka (2018). Goal-setting and unethical behavior: The journey toward the goal matters. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/13201