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Goals ( Greek τέλος [ telos ], Latin finis , English objective, goal, target ) are statements about desired conditions in the future that are to be achieved through appropriate (“goal-oriented”) intelligent behavior .


In life, people are always confronted with goals, be they set themselves or given by others. There are goals in all areas of life , for example in education , politics , sports or business . In education there are educational goals or learning goals , in sport there are performance goals , politics sets itself, for example, economic policy goals (such as the magic square ) or goals for sustainable development . In sport, the goal is also a device at which the competition ends, for example at the finish line , when the time measurement is stopped when it is reached. It symbolizes the achievement of the goal, because the competitors have identical starting requirements, use the means that can be used individually to achieve the goal and try to achieve the goal before the competition. The personal goal of every athlete is to be the first to achieve victory. In psychology , the goal is the desirable, imagined result of an activity .

The goal is understood as an occasion for an action and is therefore referred to as the purpose or final cause ( Latin causa finalis ). In this context, purpose is understood as the ultimate goal or final cause. Final in this sense means targeted , purposeful or goal-oriented . With the term travel target a spatial target is usually meant, so a destination .

Target dimensions

The target dimensions are the target content , the target scope and the target horizon . With the target content an objective determination is reached the desired state ( tangible target ), the target degree is the expression of the target ( Formal target ) such as a maximum target ( world champion are maximize profit seeking) or a minimum target (reaching the quarter-finals , minimizing manufacturing costs ). The time reference indicates the period in which a goal should be achieved. There are short-term goals (target achievement <1 year: completion of a work task ), medium-term goals (> 1 year to <3 years: investment planning ) and long-term goals (> 3 years: strategic planning ). For example, the target formulation in the company "We want to increase our profit (target content) within a financial year (time reference) by 10% (extent)" fulfills these target dimensions. Objectives must not be too abstract and must be operable so that corresponding actions can be based on them.


Depending on which economic entity sets or is given goals, a distinction is made between personal goals ( private individuals , private households ), corporate goals ( the profit- making intent of companies or other associations of persons ) or state goals (the state and its subdivisions). The goals of the individual economic entities can be contradictory, because, for example, the employee strives for the highest possible wages , the employer the lowest possible personnel costs ; the private household aims to maximize utility , companies focus on profit maximization . Who can achieve his goals here mostly depends on his negotiating power or market power . Since objectives relate to the future, they are the subject and content of the planning and budgeting , the latter have the goals to be considered and have action steps include the achievement of objectives. The decisions to be made must be “goal-oriented” (“goal-compliant”).

The purpose of the law ( Latin ratio legis ) represents the aim and purpose of a legal norm , which the legislature defines in the form of a legal fact ( Latin lex ). All addressees of the norms must - if they do not want to behave unlawfully - align their legal actions with these norms.

A distinction must also be made according to whether an economic subject sets goals himself ( own goals in the private household) or is given by committees ( goals in the company). Personal goals are mostly personal goals in which goal achievement is characterized by intrinsic motivation , while objectives are subject to extrinsic motivation .

Multiple goals

It is common for an economic subject to pursue several goals at the same time. Since these goals can partially contradict each other, the compatibility of several goals must be checked. In addition to profit maximization, corporate goals are, for example, profitability and liquidity . Several, equal goals enter into a relationship of goals . In 1966, the business economist Edmund Heinen dealt with the target systems in companies, by which he understood at least two corporate goals that are related to one another. If the system of goals of an economic subject includes several goals of equal rank, it is essential for the decision-making whether the goals are in relation to each other in the relationship of total or partial complementarity or competition . Main goals can be set in mathematical decision models as “limited goals” in the form of secondary conditions .

In economics , these secondary conditions play a role in such target systems. In order to avoid conflicting goals between at least two competing goals, these goals must be arranged in a mutual ranking ( goal hierarchy ), which consists of a main goal and subordinate secondary goals (secondary conditions). As a result, competing goals no longer have to be met with equal priority; instead, the goal identified as the main goal must first be met. The constraints may limit the main objective. In business administration , the other goals are considered secondary conditions that should not be met with priority but must be observed. They limit the fulfillment of the main goal; the entrepreneur only plans the maximum profit that arises under consideration of the secondary conditions. According to Heinz Kussmaul , the aim of all business decisions is long-term profit maximization under secondary conditions. Target harmony exists when several targets can be achieved simultaneously and to the same extent. Some goals are interdependent, so that when one goal is met, other goals are largely also met.

Paths to the goal

The societal and social conditions always run under diverse objectives. When purchasing goods , the consumer aims to achieve the highest product quality and the greatest possible benefit for the lowest possible purchase price , while the seller aims to do the opposite. These different interests result from the contradicting individual goals of the contractual partners; Here too, the bargaining power decides who can achieve his goal.

The starting point is the setting of goals, which deals with the determination of meaningful goals that can also be achieved, taking into account the environmental status (external influences on the achievement of goals such as competitors). The complex process of goal setting requires the development of long-term goals, examination of the possibilities for realization and the confirmation or change of goals. The top hierarchy level of a company ( board of directors ) takes on the setting of strategic goals, the middle level the tactical and the lower level the operational goal setting. Environmental analyzes are required, such as the current state of the target-seeking economic subject ( financial analysis , market analysis , etc.), and rough objectives are helpful. There are data parameters to be considered that influence the target achievement (profit maximization is by increasing the income tax affected). Once the goals have been set, the goal is formulated, which has to take the goal dimensions into account.

Implementation of the goals

While individuals their own stated objectives are trying to achieve voluntary, companies are forced to their formulated the board goals through target agreements and management objectives to the employees about using Perform goals ( English Management by Objectives ) and transactional leadership to pass. The goal setting can be understood in the context of goal setting theory as a motivation to work actively to achieve the goals. Essential success factors are behavior, intelligence, knowledge, culture and motivation, this applies to personal goals, corporate goals or social goals. If a goal is achieved, one speaks of success .

Business administration

In business administration, a distinction is made between corporate goals, such as economic, social and ecological goals, and employees' personal goals .

Company goals are benchmarks by which entrepreneurial activity can be measured. In companies, goals (result goals) can be pursued through actions (measures) and suitable procedures. These actions as a means of achieving the goal can in turn be formulated as goals (measures or action goals) that can be pursued by other actions (means). When goals are linked by such means-end relationships, a goal system or hierarchy of goals emerges. The prerequisite for the formation of a hierarchy of objectives is that the main objective and the subordinate objective are aligned ( complementary ). However, other target relationships are also possible. It can happen that goals are mutually exclusive or hindering. In this case one speaks of conflicting or competing goals or of a goal conflict . In addition, goals can be neutral or indifferent to one another .


In cognitive motivational psychology , the term “goal” is used for two different situations. First, “goal” can designate a positive end state that an organism strives for through its behavior. Second, “goal” can denote the subjective representation of such a state (actually: an intention). Characteristics of a goal are the content of the goal, the time frame and the degree of fulfillment. A goal is something that you can possibly achieve. But there are many obstacles to overcome.

The organizational psychology has found that people in organizations do not only react to external stimuli. Not only do they do what is asked of them, but they also act to achieve their own goals that they have set themselves. The goal of psychology concerned with the effects which characteristics of (subjectively represented) targets on the performance and on the subjective well-being have.

Side effects of goal setting

While previous studies confirm an increase in performance and motivation by setting specific, more challenging versus vague goals, according to Ordóñez / Maurice E. Schweitzer / Galinsky / Bazerman the negative side effects of rigid goal setting have been neglected in the literature.

Too narrow a goal focus blinds you to important questions that don't seem to be related to the actual goal. In doing so, important goals that are not specified by the goal-setting system are ignored, short-term goals are focused and long-term goals are disregarded. If too many goals are set, employees will focus on short-term, easy-to-achieve, and easily measurable goals. Quality is sacrificed in favor of quantity because it is easier to measure and manufacture. An inappropriate time frame to achieve goals (e.g. quarterly accounting) leads to employees concentrating on short-term goals that can be achieved quickly and neglecting the overall goal, e.g. total profit maximization. The short-term goals are perceived as an upper performance limit instead of a starting point.

If the goals are set too high, this has a negative effect on motivation . The goals are not even tackled for fear of failure. If failure actually occurs, it has a negative impact on future performance, since self-esteem is lowered by failure, which is directly linked to behavior, performance, commitment and engagement.

The pursuit of financially motivated goals in particular influences interpersonal behavior . Negotiators choose riskier negotiating strategies in order to achieve their goals and make more inefficient compromises that actually cover the objective but do not go beyond them, although this would have been possible. Furthermore, two types of unethical methods are motivated: unethical behavior, such as carrying out unnecessary repairs in order to achieve sales figures, or twisted performance data, such as specifying five hours instead of the two hours actually worked. Catalysts for this are weak oversight, financial incentives and weak ethical commitment. The problem here is that unethical methods are not only motivated by setting goals, but also induce them indirectly, through systematic, subtle changes in corporate culture . The employees become competitors, teamwork is prevented, extra role behavior is discontinued.

Learning and creativity are undermined by goals with financial incentives. Because conservative methods are rewarded, there is no need to innovate, try out alternatives, and use new methods that may not be rewarded. Intrinsic motivation is suppressed by extrinsic ones (repression or corruption effect ).

Philosophical questions

The question of whether only humans set goals for themselves or whether nature also pursues goals (see teleology ) was and is the subject of philosophical considerations. The vast majority of philosophies today consider goals to exist only in human consciousness (and possibly in some very sophisticated animals); Some religions and, for example, historicist philosophies, according to which history boils down to a goal, take a different view .

Another problem is the question of what goals people should set or pursue; this is a fundamental problem in ethics .

In the context of fatalistic conceptions, goals have no real prospect of being realized, since people are not given the necessary freedom of choice. Fatalism goes hand in hand with an absolutization of the given circumstances. On the other hand, in subjectivism and egoism an absolutization of the personal goals can take place without considering the means and the real circumstances. The belief in unrealistic goals can also escape from reality ( Escapism end).

Personal goals

Personal goals give structure and meaning to everyday life. According to Brunstein, they are “concerns, projects and endeavors that a person pursues in their everyday life and wants to realize in the future”. There are various approaches in research that deal with the construct of “personal goals”. These are the constructs current concerns (Eric Klinger), personal projects (Brian R. Little), life tasks (Nancy Cantor) and personal strivings (Robert A. Emmons).

Little and Cantor emphasize the plasticity and changeability of personal goals in the respective context. They see personal goals as the result of an interaction between people (with their motives and values) and the environment (socio-cultural and age-specific situation).

Klinger attaches more importance to personal goals than to personal concerns. According to Klinger, personal goals lead to specific goal setting, the importance of personal goals is expressed by the strength of the affective bond with the goal setting.

Emmons, on the other hand, places his concept of personal endeavors on a higher level than concrete concerns. Goals are understood here as lasting personality traits, which is expressed in his hierarchical model: a person's motives influence their personal aspirations, these in turn determine the specific concerns and projects and ultimately result in very specific (goal-oriented) actions. The difference between motives and strivings is expressed here: While a person's motives do not play a major role cognitively, personal strivings are clearly represented cognitively and thus individualize a person's motivation system. Important findings from Emmons are:

  1. Achieving personal goals is positively related to a person's wellbeing and happiness.
  2. Problematic personal goals that are characterized by conflict and ambivalence have a negative impact on a person's well-being.

Supplementary criteria

If the future state can be desired, imagined or predicted, but cannot be achieved through one's own action or the ongoing process cannot be “influenced”, one generally does not speak of a goal. It is also often required that the person “consciously” selected the state to be achieved in order to be able to speak of a goal. After all, one often contrasts the goal with the “means” necessary to achieve the goal.

A goal is also a normative statement by a decision maker about a future situation that can be influenced by one's own active action.

See also

Web links

Wiktionary: Goal  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wikiquote: Aim  - Quotes

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Stephan Frank: Objectives as an instrument of corporate management. 2012, p. 5.
  2. James Drever / Werner D Fröhlich: Dictionary of Psychology. 1970, p. 290.
  3. Edmund Heinen : Basics of business decisions: The target system of the company. 1976, p. 52.
  4. Edmund Heinen: Basics of business decisions: The target system of the company. 1976, p. 52 f.
  5. Edmund Heinen: The target system of the company. 1966, p. 134.
  6. Edmund Heinen: The target system of the company. 1966, p. 111.
  7. Hans Jung, General Business Administration , 2010, p. 39
  8. Heinz Kußmaul, Business Administration , 2016, p. 22
  9. Werner Dück, Optimization under several goals , 1979, p. 2
  10. Werner Dück: Optimization under several goals. 1979, p. 1.
  11. Klaus Altfelder / Hans G. Bartels / Joachim-Hans Horn / Heinrich Theodor Metze (eds.), Lexikon der Unternehmensführung , 1970, p. 288
  12. Maximilian Lackner, Talent Management Special , 2014, p. 285
  13. Jens Uwe Martens / Julius Kuhl, The Art of Self-Motivation , 3rd Edition, Stuttgart 2009, p. 35
  14. ^ Günter Wöhe / Ulrich Döring : Introduction to general business administration. 24th edition. Munich 2010, p. 69 f.
  15. Edmund Heinen, Fundamentals of Business Decisions. The company's target system , 3rd edition, Wiesbaden 1976.
  16. Lutz von Rosenstiel : Fundamentals of organizational psychology. 6th edition, Stuttgart 2007, p. 16.
  17. Lisa D. Ordóñez / Maurice E. Schweitzer / Adam D. Galinsky / Max H. Bazerman: Goals Gone Wild: How goals systematically harm individuals and organizations. In: Academy of Management perspectives 23. 2009, p. 6 ff.
  18. Joachim C Brunstein / Günter W Maier: Personal goals: An overview of the state of research. In: Psychologische Rundschau 47, 1996, p. 146 ff.