Delaney Cornelius '13

Hometown: Maryville, TN
Major: Psychology
Senior Study Title: “Remaining and Completed Actions of Goal-Setting and Effects on Achievement, Self-Efficacy and Self-Esteem”
Advisor: Dr. Crystal Colter

Thesis Abstract

Goal-setting theory, a growing research area in the field of psychology, has shown that goal achievements are important for attitude, well-being and later work.

Delaney Cornelius ’13 had an interest in examining goal-setting in the workplace, particularly goal-setting and accomplishment, self-efficacy, and self-esteem differences between people who focused on goals that they had completed and those who focused on goals that they had not completed.

To study goal-setting in the workplace, Cornelius focused on a local financial services franchise opportunity where individuals owned their own businesses. Those individuals have no quotas and are able to set their own schedules and sales appointments, Cornelius explained.

“Within this framework, individuals are responsible for their own successes and failures depending on the work that they put in,” Cornelius wrote in her study. “Therefore, goals are set by the individual instead of being placed on them by researchers or others.”

Participants for the study included 22 volunteers from a business franchise office in Knoxville, Tenn., whose overall mission is to help middle class families achieve financial independence. The purpose of the study was to examine the effects of looking at remaining and completed tasks from set goals over a period of three months and the effects on goal achievement, entrepreneurial self-efficacy and self-esteem.

Cornelius hypothesized that when people focus on their completed actions (as opposed to remaining tasks), they will value their current goal more. Through her study, she also aimed to implement a strategy or program that would help the participants further their businesses through better use of goal-setting.

She began her research with an introductory survey to gauge each participant’s current goal-setting techniques, personal effort, business self-efficacy and current situation in his or her business. Participants were then randomly split into two groups: a “completed tasks” group and a “remaining tasks” group. They were then asked through email directions every other week to complete a survey through online survey software Survey Monkey. Those in the “completed tasks” group had a script that asked them to discuss what goals they had met in the past two weeks, while those in the “remaining tasks” group were asked about the goals they had not yet accomplished.

After four bi-weekly surveys, participants were given a conclusion survey that asked about their goal completion over the survey period and whether their goal-setting techniques changed.

Several participants dropped out during the survey period, leaving a sample of only nine participants at the conclusion. Using statistical analysis, Cornelius, a statistics minor, concluded that her hypothesis -- that individuals in the “remaining tasks” group would have higher scores in all three categories (accomplishment, self-efficacy and self-esteem) -- was not supported. The difference in entrepreneurial self-efficacy was “marginally significant,” Cornelius said, noting that the other two hypotheses regarding self-esteem and accomplishment were not supported during the study.

Cornelius said her research helps raise new questions about goal-setting techniques, and she recommended that further research be conducted to examine a larger sample size over a shorter period of time.

Cornelius’ advisor, Associate Professor of Psychology Dr. Crystal Colter, was so impressed with Cornelius’ Senior Study that she recommended it as an exemplary thesis for the library’s permanent collection.

“I was impressed from the beginning with Delaney’s grasp of the topic and the research literature in that area; in particular, her understanding of research methods and statistics went above and beyond the typical undergraduate level of knowledge,” Colter said. “Delaney and I both learned a lot about the challenges and unique benefits of the data collection process in an applied study (e.g., one where the participants are reporting about their actual work and outcomes).”

Cornelius, who is working at University of Tennessee Medical Center as a financial counselor in the cancer department, said she will be able to apply what she learned about goal-setting to her future career endeavors. “The Senior Study was really interesting to me and helped me learn a lot about goal-setting in my career,” said. “It helped guide me in choosing a job that would lead me down a career path that I am interested in.”