Are your Goals Outcomes or just Actions?

Goals should be the desired result or change that you want to see effected by a strategy. Often, when reviewing plans, we see goals that describe actions that people think that they should take.

There is a very important difference between these two types of goals, If your goal is an action that you take, then when you take the action, you have achieved the goal, regardless of the results of the action. However, a better goal would be one that describes the desired result. Actions can then be taken, but if the actions are not having the desired effect, then you can change the action to one that does have the desired effect.

The process of setting goals, and measuring progress, according to the desired effects, rather than the actions taken to get those effects, is called Outcome Based Thinking. The idea is to focus measurement of progress on the Outcome rather than the action.

Typical actions that I see set as objectives in plans include:

  • arrange a conference
  • provide training
  • hold coaching sessions
  • develop new products

Better objectives that are described as outcomes might be things like:

  • 1000 new people are exposed to our messages
  • 100% of our staff are fully funded
  • 100% of our staff are working to objectives agreed in job descriptions
  • 80% of the population in a newly identified demographic group can see what we do in a locally understandable manner

The latter are descriptions of what results we want to see (the outcomes) and the former are actions that may, or may not, lead to some of those desired outcomes.

We originally defined strategic leadership as “engaging people in creative thinking, planning and execution to most effectively accomplish the vision”.

If we set action oriented objectives then we are defining how the objectives are to be met, which removes the ability of our staff to think,  plan and execute creatively. Give your staff flexibility to do their work – set objectives that allow creativity in the solution taken to achieve them.

This all sounds really simple but, in an action oriented working culture like ours, it goes against the grain, and we have to consciously work against our instincts.

A presentation that someone else created, but which I have used to explain this further, can be found here.

2 thoughts on “Are your Goals Outcomes or just Actions?

  1. George

    Thanks Chris. This is great you have made simple for those of us whose English is the second language. Sometimes some of our languages do not differentiate the meaning of goals and objectives!
    Thanks
    Mamboleo

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