Tag Archives: Objectives

More on Definition of Outcomes vs. Objectives

I was asked for more explanation on the differences between Outcomes and Objectives.

  • The Outcome is the effect that we want to see happen in the lives of our clients.
  • The Objective is the thing that we must achieve in order to cause the results in the lives of our clients.
  • Outcomes are written independently of us.
  • Objectives are written to tell us what we must achieve, so they are written for us.

My boss put it like this: A simple way to differentiate between Outcomes and Objectives is that Objectives focus on intended results, whilst Outcomes focus on achieved results. Objectives also clarify how we get to the Outcomes; what needs to be accomplished in order for the Outcomes to be achieved.

Outcome based thinking has become standard in much of the commercial world. For example, businesses are much more focused on levels of customer satisfaction than the wait time on customer service phone answering systems. Wait time on customer service answering systems would have an impact on customer satisfaction, but if you can achieve customer satisfaction by some completely different means (e.g. change product design to have few faults, use live chat customer service rather than phone calls) then the end problem is solved.

As a result of this, some major donors to Christian ministry in the US have made donations dependent upon outcomes rather than activities. The first example I heard about was the McClellan Foundation, that was funding the Book of Hope ministry. Book of Hope was distributing Bibles in the developing world, and was being funded along the lines of “$x puts y Bibles in the hands of z children”. This led to a mentality of “our job is to distribute Bibles” regardless of their impact on people’s lives. The McClellan Foundation said it didn’t want to fund Bibles being distributed, but to see children who follow Jesus in the target countries. As a result of this, the Book of Hope ministry changed its emphasis to distribution of Bibles and teaching from them. Continued funding from the McClellan Foundation was dependent upon before-and-after qualitative surveys in the target demographics. Prior to the project a survey is taken asking key questions (e.g. Do you know who Jesus is?, Do you lie to your parents?). After the ministry the survey is taken again, and the impact of the ministry on the children is assessed.

From a leadership perspective, I think that Outcomes are better goals to set for staff because they give more freedom in implementation by the staff in order to achieve the desired end result.

Some more specific examples of Outcomes vs. Objectives:

Example A:

  • Outcome: Everyone knows someone who truly follows Jesus.
  • Objective: Spiritual movements launched everywhere containing people who truly follow Jesus by end 2020.

Example B:

  • Outcome: 100 students in the University of Warsaw living a Spirit filled life.
  • Objective: Spirit filled life taught and demonstrated to student leaders in University of Warsaw by June 30 2015.

Example C:

  • Outcome: No Eastern Europe staff leave our organization because of lack of funds.
  • Objective: 100% of Eastern Europe staff are fully funded by Dec 31 2016.

Defining Outcome vs. Objective vs. Action

There is often confusion between the terms Outcome, Objective and Actions in strategic plans.

The principle behind the use of these words is to think in terms of:

  • What do we want to see change in our client?
  • What does that change look like from the perspective of the service that we provide?
  • What do we do to create that change?

When writing a plan, the general flow of thinking should be:

  1. What changes do we want to see in the people we serve?
  2. What changes do we need to make in order to effect the desired change in the people we serve?
  3. What do we actually do to cause those changes?

If this thinking is used, then:

  • The Outcome is the change that we want to see in the people we serve.
  • The Objective is the change that we need to make in order to cause the effect of the Outcomes in the people we serve.
  • The Actions are the things that we do to cause those changes.

In more detail, the differences between these terms are:


  • The Outcome is the result is for the people we serve.
  • An Outcome is a description of the results written from the perspective of the client.
  • The advantage of writing Outcomes is that regardless of what we do and how we get there, if we focus on the outcome the result will always be delivered for the client.
  • Outcomes should be written so that the changes in the client, or the effects of our actions on the client, are observable and measurable in a specific timeframe.


  • The Objective is the result of what we do.
  • An objective is a description of the results written from our perspective.
  • The advantage of writing Objectives is that they more directly relate to us and what we do. A possible disadvantage is that that badly written objectives could result in success for us, but not achieving the goal for the people we are supposed to serve.
  • Objectives should be written so that we can see if we have done what we said we would do (i.e. observable and measurable) in a specific timeframe.
  • Objectives can be related to desired outcomes. Objectives can be determined from Outcomes, by re-writing them from our perspective. The achievement of well written objectives should inherently and unambiguously lead to the achievement of related outcomes.


  • An Action is what we do.
  • Steps taken by us in order to achieve the Outcomes or Objectives.
  • Actions should be measurable and time-bound.

Example 1:


Strategic plans will contain correct use of the terms Outcome, Objective and Action in 2015.


Explain the correct use of the terms Outcome, Objective and Action in strategic plans by end of 2014.


Write and e-mail explaining the correct use of the terms Outcome, Objective and Action in strategic plans in March 2014.

Post a blog entry explaining the correct use of the terms Outcome, Objective and Action in strategic plans in March 2014.

Respond to all questions from staff about the correct use of the terms Outcome, Objective and Action in strategic plans by end December 2014.

Example 2:


20 new countries have new Student Led Movements by end 2020.


Student Led Movements launched in 20 new countries by end 2020.


Training of students in leading new movements by end 2015.

Arrange sending trips for existing student movement leaders to 10 new countries by end 2017.

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.

Using a SWOT Analysis in Developing a Strategic Plan

A SWOT analysis can be used to help determine what actions should be taken to meet a goal. This should be clear in the items identified in the SWOT, and the actions taken as a result.

The first thing to do is state the goal to be achieved. This could be an organization Vision statement, a Direction statement or a team objective. You can’t develop a strategy using a SWOT analysis if you do not know what goal you want to achieve.

The purpose of completing a SWOT chart is to identify the most important things upon which to build, avoid, make the most of, and counter (respectively) through the actions in the plan in order to achieve the goal. The items in the SWOT analysis should clearly relate to the achievement of the goal.

Similarly, the actions identified after completing the SWOT should clearly relate to the items identified in the SWOT. Otherwise, there was no point in doing the SWOT analysis in the first place.

Let’s work through an example.

Say that an organizational goal is: “To motivate 100 volunteers to do something specific with a product developed by your organization by the end of this calendar year.”

The strengths of your organization, weaknesses of your organization, opportunities coming up in your environment, and the external threats to succeeding in your goal can be listed in a SWOT chart as follows:


  • We have a working prototype of the tool already developed.
  • The tool is easy to use, so training of volunteers should be quick.


  • We don’t currently know 100 volunteers.


  • There’s an industry conference in May that many of our volunteers could attend.
  • An existing donor to our organization has said that they will provide the funds to use tools like the one that we have developed.
  • The volunteers we know respect us and like to refer other people to us.


  • The best time of year for volunteers to use this tool is September, and it is already February.

Notice that the wording of the SWOT items specifically relate to the wording in the objective.

The action plan to achieve the objective could then directly relate to the items in the SWOT analysis as follows:

  1. Fred to contact all known volunteers by March 31st to invite them to the May conference.
  2. Jane to produce demonstration kits and promotional material by May 1st for volunteers to recruit further volunteers.
  3. Arthur to contact the donor by February 28th to see if they will fund production of 100 tool kits by August 31st.
  4. Algernon to build a Facebook page by March 31st describing the tool to allow known volunteers to share the idea with other potential volunteers.

Notice that the words in the actions directly relate back to the items identified in the SWOT analysis, which in turn relate directly to the goal.

How Many Things Can You Measure?

They say that you get what you measure in an organization. You can also measure just about everything. So, how many measurements should we focus on?

When putting together business cases as a product manager, we could include a hundred metrics: from sales by customer to material costs. However, only two things mattered in deciding if it was a go or a no go: Internal Rate of Return (IRR) and Net Present Value (NPV). It was easy to compare investment opportunities when you only had to compare 2 metrics, as opposed to the 100 or so things that contributed to those metrics.

In the 4 Disciplines of Execution (http://vimeo.com/46230250) Chris McChesney says that there are diminishing returns when an organization focuses on more than three goals. I don’t know if McChesney’s research is scientifically valid, but it aligns with my personal experience.

So, how many goals do you have? Do you have too many goals upon which to practically focus?

If you have too many goals for practical pursuit at the moment, which are the most important ones? Can some of the less important goals be the subject of focus after having achieved the most important goals?