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Friday, May 3, 2013

Higher Employee Performance through Path-Goal Theory


The Path-Goal theory helps to define methods and pathways to successful achievement of organizational objectives. The theory postulates that leadership behavior is subject to the satisfaction, motivation, and performance of their subordinates. Strong leadership implies that such leaders should engage in behaviors that enhance employee abilities and reduce deficiencies. Organizations can do this through coaching, counseling, servant leadership, and engagement. The specific style of leadership and direction are based upon two contingencies that include the environment and the employee characteristics. Through the use and application of Path-Goal Theory organizations can realize higher performance.

The path-goal theory was originally developed by Robert House in 1971 and then revised again in the mid 1990’s. The theory came into business as a strong approach of managing employees and improving upon their overall performance. The ultimate goal is to provide them a path to achieve their objectives through proper communication and encouragement.  It is seen as a method of encouraging engagement.

The success of leadership depends in part on environmental factors and follower characteristics. 1.) Environmental factors relate to culture, power dynamics, team characteristics, etc… that is outside the employees control. 2.) Employee characteristics are those individual characteristics that depend on employees themselves such as employees’ needs, locus of control, experience, perceived ability, satisfaction, willingness to leave the organization, and anxiety. Proper leadership requires the ability to adjust that leadership style based upon these two contingencies. 

A study conducted by Sikandar Hayyat explored path-goal models of leadership and found that both directive and participative leadership styles encourage higher levels of performance (2012).  The study also indicates that subordinate job expectations are influenced heavily by leader behaviors. Directive styles are more focused clarifying paths while participative styles are more beneficial in setting, clarifying, and achieving goals. Employees take cues from their leaders to determine proper courses of action.

The directive style offers paths for employees to accept or reject while the participative style tries to draw subordinates into defining and understanding these goals. It is possible to see the benefits of directive methods once employees have been acclimated into a company and trust the organization while the participative style may be more beneficial for new employees that seek direction but must willingly accept paths and goals as appropriate. The researcher Robert House actually suggested a servant leadership style as most appropriate.

Columbia Records is an excellent example of an organization that used Path-Goal Theory to realize objectives. They inspired performance, contentment, and motivation by clarifying paths on how to achieve goals, rewarding employees once they have achieved those defined goals, and removing organizational obstacles that lowered the chances of employees being successful (Vandergrift & Matusitz, 2011). The process and its defined goals were transparent and trusted by employees which lent to higher levels of engagement.

The path-goal theory is one method of viewing leadership and workplace engagement. Organizations that seek to increase employee’s abilities should think about how their leadership provides appropriate direction on expectations, reward employees who follow appropriate paths, and encourages employees to adopt those paths for themselves. Through proper management organizations can realize higher levels of performance beyond job descriptions and basic standards. 

Kinicki, A. & Kreitner, R. (2009). Organizational Behavior: Key concepts, skills & practices (fourth edition). McGraw-Hill Company.

Malik, S. (2012). A study of relationship between leader behaviors and subordinate job expectations: a path-goal approach. Pakistan Journal of Commerce & Social Sciences, 6 (2). 

Vandergrift, R. & Matusitz, J. (2011). Path-goal theory: a successful Columbia Records story. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 21 (4).



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