2005-2006 James McKeen Cattell Fellow Award

Edwin A. Locke

University of Maryland, College Park

Edwin A. Locke is the most published organizational psychologist in the history of the field. His pioneering research has advanced and enriched our understanding of work motivation and job satisfaction. The theory that is synonymous with his name — goal-setting theory — is perhaps the most widely-respected theory in industrial-organizational psychology. His 1976 chapter on job satisfaction continues to be one of the most highly-cited pieces of work in the field.

Locke’s work on goal setting began with the premise that the best place to start was at the level of conscious motivation, specifically, with the individual’s conscious performance goals. Based on hundreds of experiments, a theory of goal setting and task performance was developed by Locke and his colleague Gary Latham. This theory encompasses the effects of various goal attributes, such as specificity and difficulty; the mediators of goal effects; the moderators of goal effects; the relationship between goal effectiveness and task knowledge; and the role of goals in mediating the effects of personality and of other motivators, such as money.

The generality of goal theory findings has been established across subjects, countries, tasks, levels, settings, time spans, methods of setting goals, and experimental designs. Additional studies have extended goal-setting research into new domains, such as risk-taking and leadership. Most recently, and for the first time, the effects of conscious goals have been compared with the effects of subconscious goals. A critical factor in the success of goal-setting theory is that it was built inductively rather than through the hypothetico-deductive method.

A generous colleague and a man of unimpeachable integrity, Locke has won lifetime achievement awards from numerous academic organizations. Locke’s students, colleagues, and friends value their association with Locke, and even those who disagree with him respect him for his intellect, honesty, loyalty, and commitment to scientific discourse and discovery.