Goal systems: Why you need outcome goals, performance goals and process goals to be successful

Goals are critical for high performing individuals and teams. They provide the focus, motivation, creativity and persistence required to push people past their boundaries and achieve great things.

When we think of goals, we tend to think in terms of outcome goals. These describe a desirable outcome or end result; such as a business goal to increase sales revenue by 20% or a personal goal to earn a six-figure salary.

However, outcome goals by themselves don’t suffice. This is because they are largely outside of our direct control, provide very few clues on how they can be reached and give little feedback on our progress towards them.

To help us reach our desired outcomes we need two other types of goals. These are known as performance goals and process goals.

Performance goals mark the pathway towards outcome goals and provide feedback on our progress, whilst process goals help us get into the frequent habit of doing the day-to-day activities that enable us to achieve our desired outcomes.

Essentially these three different types of goals work best when they work together as a complete goal-system.

Goal system

To help illustrate this, here is an example based my newly found fitness interest – rowing:

  • Outcome goal – Earn a place in my local rowing team in 12 months time.
  • Performance goal – Achieve consistent sub 2:00 min/500m splits for each 2000m rowing session.
  • Process goal – Use a rowing machine to complete five 2000m rowing sessions per week.

In this case I have set myself a very specific and challenging outcome, which is to earn a place in my local rowing team (outcome goal). For this to happen I am going to need to be able to meet and maintain a competitive pace (performance goal), which will require me to practice regularly on a rowing machine (process goal).

Knowing that I need to use the rowing machine five times per week (process goal), enables me to design the activity into my daily habits, i.e. going to the gym and doing a row before I start work each morning. This ‘process’ effectively means half the battle is won.

But to stop me from just going to the gym and coasting along on the rowing machine, I have my performance goal. By recording my time for each row, I can begin to see how well I am progressing. This is what drives mastery and raises my standards.

If it looks like I’m not getting anywhere close to my performance goal, I can look at experimenting with other activities, such as lifting weights to see if the extra muscle helps my times.

On the other hand if I achieve my performance goal too quickly, I can always revise it to something more challenging.

Number of goals to set

In this example I’ve just used one performance goal and one process goal, but depending on the circumstances you could have more.

However to keep things simple and focused, I’d recommend no more than a couple of performance goals and around three or four process goals should be assigned to each outcome goal.

Using the goal system

The great thing about this goal system is that it can be applied to many different situations. For example it is very popular amongst athletes and other sports professionals to drive and motivate their training.

In the same way, you can use the system to develop your career, lose weight, get out of debt, build a business, learn a new skill or save for home – anything really.

This system can also be used to help teams and organisations deliver better results, especially when they can see the link between their day-to-day work and the organisation’s goals.

To help you define your own goals, here is an overview of each goal type:

Outcome goals

  • Big, challenging, singular goals
  • Describe the desired end result
  • Are for the long-term
  • Provide motivation, focus and encourage persistence
  • Are out of the individual’s or team’s control (e.g. my application to join the rowing team may be blocked because there are several more suitable applicants)
  • Provide little insight or feedback into how they should be achieved

Performance goals

  • Define the standard that needs to be achieved (often referred to as key performance indicators or key results) and encourage mastery
  • Map the pathway towards the outcome goal
  • Provide a feedback loop to help you determine how well your process goals are working
  • Are completely under the individual’s or team’s control
  • Can be scaled up and made more challenging as progress is being made

Process goals

  • Describe the strategy, techniques or activities that need to be applied on a day-to-day basis to enable the outcome to be achieved
  • Are completely under the individual’s or team’s control
  • Can be designed into daily habits
  • Can be adapted or replaced if the performance goals are not being met

Your challenge

Think about a long-term outcome goal that you have been struggling to meet and use the goal system approach to define supporting performance and process goals that will enable you make the progress you want.

Good luck 🙂