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Keywords:

  • prime;
  • subconscious;
  • goal setting;
  • job performance

Abstract

Overwhelming evidence in the behavioral sciences shows that consciously set goals can increase an employee's performance. Thus, HR professionals have had little, if any, reason to be interested in subconscious processes. In the past decade, however, laboratory experiments by social psychologists have shown that goals can be primed. That is, people's behavior is affected by goals of which they are unaware. Because a conscious goal consumes cognitive resources, this finding has important implications for employee efficiency in the workplace. This paper discusses the results of priming a performance goal in two organizational settings. Call center employees who were primed using a photograph of a woman winning a race raised significantly more money from donors than those who were randomly assigned to a control group. A meta-analysis revealed that a photograph can prime the subconscious to increase job performance. The results of the present study demonstrate that subconscious motivation is a concept worthy of exploration for both human resource scholars and practitioners. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.