Goal Theory focuses on motivation to achieve certain goals, whereas Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs relegates goal-achievement to taking place only after base needs are met.
Goal theory is used to describe reasons why people do things. Goals can be divided into mastery vs. performance, task versus ego involvement, and approach versus avoidance goals. For example, a person’s goal might be to master something, or to do better than someone else.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs begins with basic physiological needs such as food and water, and moves up to higher and higher human needs. The next needs are safety, then belonging, esteem, and finally self-actualization. When a person is self-actualized, he or she is the best person possible. It is being all you could be.
According to Maslow, the lower needs are the more motivating. People have to breathe, eat and drink. Needs at the higher level are not as necessary to our survivial.
These needs have less power to motivate persons, and they are more influenced by formal education and life experiences. (enotes)
In the end, both theories are seeking to explain why people act as they do. Goal Theory has more of a personal psychological focus and does not rank needs, and Maslow’s hierarchy purposefully suggests that some needs are more primal and therefore more motivating than others.