Prime and Performance: Can a CEO Motivate Employees Without Their Awareness?

Alexander D. Stajkovic, Gary P. Latham, Kayla Sergent, Suzanne Peterson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Work motivation research is at a crossroads with the discovery of the causal effects of primed subconscious goals in addition to those of consciously set goals on performance. Although social psychologists continue to demonstrate positive effects of primed goals on a multitude of dependent variables, priming research has been criticized for its lack of generalizability beyond tightly controlled laboratory experiments. Addressing this skepticism, a field experiment was conducted in a for-profit organization, where the CEO used goal priming to motivate job performance. A performance goal for achievement was primed with achievement-related words embedded in an email from the CEO to employees. The goal priming by the CEO necessitated little to no costs yet it increased objectively measured performance effectiveness by 15% and efficiency by 35% over a 5-day work-week. This field experiment illustrates a new alternative for increasing employee performance. In a second experiment, we conducted a conceptual replication of the field experiment in the laboratory with a larger sample size, and we extended theory by testing a measure of motivation level as a mediator of the primed goal-performance effect. The results affirmed the hypothesized motivational influence. These two experiments increase understanding of subconscious motivation processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Business and Psychology
StateAccepted/In press - Jan 1 2018


  • Conscious goals
  • Job performance
  • Primed goals
  • Subconscious motivation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • General Business, Management and Accounting
  • Applied Psychology
  • General Psychology


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