Improving Workers' Performance in Small Firms: A Randomized Experiment on Goal Setting in Ghana

Last registered on September 19, 2022


Trial Information

General Information

Improving Workers' Performance in Small Firms: A Randomized Experiment on Goal Setting in Ghana
Initial registration date
September 09, 2022

Initial registration date is when the trial was registered.

It corresponds to when the registration was submitted to the Registry to be reviewed for publication.

First published
September 19, 2022, 3:02 PM EDT

First published corresponds to when the trial was first made public on the Registry after being reviewed.



Primary Investigator

Tilburg University, Economics

Other Primary Investigator(s)

PI Affiliation
Tilburg University

Additional Trial Information

Start date
End date
Secondary IDs
Prior work
This trial does not extend or rely on any prior RCTs.
Most of the literature studying barriers to small firm growth in developing countries focuses on capital, technology and management constraints. Less attention is given to labor constraints, in particular to behavioral ones like workers' motivation or self-control problems. We design a field experiment to test whether setting production goals can release such behavioral constraints and improve workers' performance in small cassava processing firms in Ghana. We first train workers and employers to measure their daily production, and after a month, we randomly assign a sub-sample of them to implement daily, non-binding, production goals for the subsequent month. We find a significant positive effect of goal setting on workers' performance: compared to their counterparts who only measure production, workers who set goals increase daily output by 16%, work around 40 minutes longer per day and are 9% more productive per hour, increasing average product of labor by 14%. The data suggest that goals act as a commitment device for workers with self-control problems and ignite their competitive spirit. These findings provide a proof of concept that goal setting can be an effective and inexpensive practice to improve labor productivity and foster growth of small firms in developing countries.
External Link(s)

Registration Citation

Cettolin, Elena and Patricio Santiago Dalton. 2022. "Improving Workers' Performance in Small Firms: A Randomized Experiment on Goal Setting in Ghana." AEA RCT Registry. September 19.
Experimental Details


We conduct an RCT to test whether setting non-incentivized goals can increase the performance of workers in small cassava processing firms in Ghana. We randomly select a group of 315 small and informal firms to be trained in measuring and recording daily production; a subset of 210 firms is also trained in goal setting. Firms were provided with pans to store the peeled cassava, booklets to record the number of pans peeled, and if applicable to set production goals, and a camera phone to generate digital records of both the pans and the booklets. An instructional video in two local languages was also recorded on each camera phone in case the firms needed a reminder of the protocols. All treated firms measured the daily production of their employees for three weeks. After four weeks of production measurement, employers and workers in the goal setting group were instructed to record, at the beginning of the work shift, the number of bowls they aim to peel on that day. Actual production was recorded at the end of the work shift. The Goals group set daily goals for the remaining five weeks of the intervention period, while the Production group continued to record only production. All firms were visited weekly to ensure adherence to the protocol and to collect the records firms were generating.
Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date

Primary Outcomes

Primary Outcomes (end points)
There are 3 main outcome variables measured at the individual worker level:
- the number of cassava bowls peeled during a peeling shift (which coincides with the working day)
-the number of hours spent peeling during a day
-productivity, defined as bowls peeled divided by hours of peeling.

Another outcome is defined at the firm level:
- Average product of labor, defined as the total number of bowls peeled during a shift, divided by the number of workers who were peeling
Primary Outcomes (explanation)

Secondary Outcomes

Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Workers' well being, self report on a 1 to 5 point scale at baseline and in the post intervention survey.
Employers' satisfaction with the intervention, self reported in the post intervention survey.
Persistence and diffusion of goal setting, proxied by a set of questions on goal setting asked in the baseline and post-experiment survey.
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)

Experimental Design

Experimental Design
After completion of a baseline survey, the firms were randomly assigned to a Control group (N=110), a Production measurement group (N=105), and a production measurement plus Goals setting group (N=210).
Firms in the Control group did not receive any training, while all firms assigned to either Production or Goals were invited to participate in a training on production measurement. During the training, firms were instructed to follow a protocol to measure and record the amount of cassava peeled per employee per day. The training was offered to both employers and employees and was conducted on the premises of each firm on an agreed-upon date and time. For logistical reasons, a maximum of four employees per firm were allowed to participate in the training. Firms are usually run by one single employer, who receives the training. The training sessions were conducted either by a trained NBSSI Business Advisor (BA) and an IPA Monitor Officer (MO), or only by an IPA MO. The training took approximately one hour per firm.

At the beginning of the training, trainers introduced the tools that were to be used for production measurement. These tools consisted of a booklet for each employee, aluminum bowls of a standardized size (one per employee, up to four employees), a mobile-phone with a camera, a video outlining the protocol, and miscellaneous utensils (e.g. pencils, sheets, stickers, markers, etc..). The video was available in two local languages and it served as a reference in case the firm forgot the protocol. Each employee was given his/her own production booklet with a unique ID code and the names of both employee and employer on the front cover. On each page, the booklet had an illustration of twelve cassava bowls, numbered from 1 to 12, and at the top of the page, the following was written: `Today, I peeled this many bowls of cassava'. The design of the booklets and protocol is the result of careful piloting.

Once the tools were presented, employers and employees were trained to measure and record production using the following protocol. At the beginning of each working day, the employer would place on the side of the bowls a pre-printed sticker with the employer and employee ID and name, and the date of peeling. The employer would take the employee booklet and write down the date and the starting time of peeling. The employee would then start peeling cassava, placing the peeled cassava into her uniquely identified bowl. Employees received clear instructions that they could only use their uniquely identified bowl, and no other person could use their bowl to place peeled cassava. At the end of the working shift, the employer would count the number of bowls filled to the brim, circle in the employee booklet the total number of bowls, write down the end time, and place his/her thumb print or signature. The employer would then remove the stickers from each bowl and store the raw cassava.

In addition to recording production in each booklet, the employer was instructed to take a photograph of each bowl immediately after it was filled. The photos thus recorded information on the date and time at which a worker filled a bowl. In the event that the employer was absent, workers were permitted to take pictures of their bowls. Firms were informed that a monitor from IPA would visit each firm once a week to assess the firm's progress, collect data on production, and retrain on protocols if necessary. During the training, we promised that employers and employees would receive a completion certificate provided by IPA if they followed the protocols. We made it explicit that the phone and bowls were tools to be used only for the duration of this exercise and that the firm would not receive any reward based on how much cassava was peeled.

All firms were instructed to follow the production measurement protocol for eight weeks. Firms assigned to the Goals group were re-visited in week four and trained to set and record employees' production goals for the remaining four weeks. The protocol for setting goals was as follows. At the beginning of each working day, the worker would propose a daily target to the employer. If necessary, employer and worker would discuss whether the target was realistic, and the two would then agree on a target. Due to the informality of the context and the close employer/employee relationships and after consulting them in the piloting phase, we decided that goals would be set together by the employer and employee rather than individually by one of the two. Moreover, this is also in line with modern workplace practices, where it is common to have employees and employers agree on a target. The employee would then use his or her own goals booklet to record the number of bowls set as a target, and the employer would take a picture of the booklet immediately after the goal was set. The goals booklet was identical to the production booklet, in addition to an illustration of 12 numbered bowls at the top of each page with the sentence `Today, my goal is to peel this many bowls of cassava'. At the bottom of each page, there was an illustration of 12 numbered bowls representing the actual number of bowls filled on that day. After setting and recording a daily goal, employers and employees had to follow the same production measurement protocol described above.
Experimental Design Details
Randomization Method
Randomization done in office by a computer.
Randomization Unit
Cassava processing firms.
Was the treatment clustered?

Experiment Characteristics

Sample size: planned number of clusters
425 cassava processing firms.
Sample size: planned number of observations
The production of each firm in the Goals and Production group (maximum 325 firms) is observed during the 8 weeks of the intervention. The performance of maximum 4 workers per firm is observed during the same period.
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
110 firms in Control group, 105 firms in Production measurement group and 210 firms in production measurement plus Goals group
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)

IRB Name
Brigham Young University
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number
IRB X16388


Post Trial Information

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Is the intervention completed?
Intervention Completion Date
May 18, 2018, 12:00 +00:00
Data Collection Complete
Data Publication

Data Publication

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Program Files

Program Files
Reports, Papers & Other Materials

Relevant Paper(s)

Reports & Other Materials