Goal Clarity, Task Significance, and Performance: Evidence From a Laboratory Experiment

Abstract:

This article examines the relationships among task goal clarity, task significance, and individual-level task performance. While both goals and task significance are important in extant public-management research, a theoretical integration of the variables is needed. This study makes the theoretical contribution of explaining how these variables might work together in a public organization. In addition to examining the relationship between task goal clarity and performance, we consider how task significance might condition the relationship. There are theoretical reasons to suggest both a positive and negative conditional effect. Utilizing a 3×2 factorial design, we conducted a laboratory experiment on 214 subjects participating in a task-performance exercise. This study provides experimental evidence that task goal clarity is positively related to performance. However, an interesting relationship emerges with respect to the conditional effect of task significance. When an individual is primed to believe their performance has a higher level of task significance, the evidence suggests that this will decrease their level of performance. The findings provide significant nuance to our understanding of both task goal clarity and performance, as well as our understanding of the relationship between task significance and performance.

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