In a previous blog I extolled the virtues of ‘Controlling The Controllables’, an approach adopted by high performers who invest time and effort focusing only on the things they believe they can truly influence.

Just this week I was facilitating a goal setting session for a group of managers. Now I don’t know many people who would argue that well-crafted, aligned goals and objectives aren’t a force for good within organisations. As we kicked the tyres on the goals this group of managers had set for their teams, it once again highlighted the difference between a concept being easy to understand versus being easy to implement.

Examples began to flow of tricky performance review conversations, adversarial battles between managers on the one-hand perceiving performance had fallen short, and their team members on the other hand believing this was due to circumstances beyond their control.

Some groups I work with roll their eyes skywards at the mention of the SMART goal setting acronym. They’ve heard it all before. On further investigation it’s often startling how the difference between knowledge and application can be laid bare. Whilst relevant for this particular set of managers, it’s not the reason I sat down to write this blog.

What the session highlighted was that when we set goals around outcomes alone, we do so at our peril. One manager explained her dilemma in rating a team member who’d fallen short on the measurable goal of having his proposal approved by a decision making panel. The individual himself argued that he was the victim of shifting business priorities and changes in personnel on the panel. The manager described the subjective debate that ensued, with neither she nor the team member entirely happy with the eventual outcome, and the whole episode doing little to improve their relationship.

To avoid these kinds of challenges I always encourage those setting goals and objectives to split them into 3 categories:

Outcome Goals:

Outcome Goals capture the desired result – in this case having the initiative approved, or in the case of an Olympic long jumper for example, winning the gold medal at an Olympic Games. Inspiring though it may be to have Outcome Goals the problem when they’re set in isolation is that they’re often not entirely within our own control. If the business priorities or the decision making personnel change, I could be stuffed. If some other lunatic happens to jump further than me in the Olympic final, I’m stuffed. Those with a high performance mindset recognise this.

Performance Goals:

Which is why they invest time and effort on Performance Goals. Performance Goals focus on an individual’s (or team’s) performance and behaviour, not the end result. This means they are less at risk of the external factors beyond their control. Therein lies the critical difference between Performance and Outcome Goals. So, rather than focusing on the goal of winning the gold medal, our long jumper may set himself the Performance Goal of jumping a personal best distance in the Olympic final. That may still be a stretch, but it’s within far greater control, and driven by the individual’s own behaviour, than winning the gold medal.

Process Goals:

Here we take the Performance Goal, and break it down into relatively smaller Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timebound steps that if achieved will keep us on track to hit our Performance Goal(s).

There are two major benefits to this three phased approach:

  1. The different phases are interdependent. If I’m achieving my Process Goal(s) then by definition I’m more likely to hit my Performance Goal(s). Likewise if I’m hitting my Performance Goal(s), I’m also putting myself in the best possible position to secure my Outcome Goal(s)
  2. It avoids ‘the all or nothing’ assessment often associated with Outcome Goals when they are  set in isolation. Therefore it also reduces the likelihood of those difficult conversations between manager and team member. If the Outcome Goal has been influenced by factors beyond the control of the individual, the manager can still take progress against Process and Performance Goals into consideration as part of the overall performance review

– Dan