Management Papers

Document Type

Technical Report

Date of this Version


Publication Source

Academy of Management Proceedings




A substantial literature has demonstrated that goal setting improves task performance (Locke & Latham, 1990). In this article we explore the proposition that challenging goals motivate not only constructive behavior, but also unethical behavior such as lying and cheating. We conducted eight scenario studies and an anagram experiment, and find support for our thesis. Respondents rated individuals with unmet goals as significantly more likely to engage in unethical behavior than similar individuals attempting to do their best or with met goals. Similarly, participants in the goal conditions in our experiment were significantly more likely to misrepresent their productivity in an anagram task than were participants in the do your best condition. This relationship was particularly strong when people had reward rather than mere goals, and when people were just short of reaching the goal. We explain our results in terms of the reference point adoption process consistent with Prospect Theory (Kahneman & Tversky, 1979), and identify specific contributions to goal setting theory and management practice.

Copyright/Permission Statement

Originally published in the Academy of Management Proceedings © 2002 Academy of Management

This is a pre-publication version. The final version is available at


decision making, ethics, organizational goals, strategic planning, motivation, employees, valuation, task performance, goal, job performance, professional ethics, employee motivation



Date Posted: 25 October 2018