The World of Work Project

Types of Goals

There are several different types of goals that individuals or organizations can work towards. These include process related goals and outcome related goals. It’s helpful to have a mix of goals to focus on.

Summary by The World of Work Project

Types of Goals

While most people often thinks of goals as a fairly generic set of things towards which and individual or organizations should aim, it’s sometimes helpful to think about different types of goals. From a business perspective goals are sometimes considered as being “lead” or “lag” goals, and from a sports perspective goals are sometimes considered to be “outcome”, “performance” or “process goals.

It’s important to remember that all of these types of goals can be SMART, and it’s worth reading Locke and Latham’s Goal Setting Theory for more details regarding how to design effective goals.

for more details regarding how to design effective goals.

Lead and lag goals

From a business perspective, lag goals are core things that have been achieved and lead goals are indicators that may correlate with a future achievement of lag goals. The terminology come from the relation with time. Lag goals happen after a series of events, lead goals happen before a final outcome.

Lead goals and things you can do now, that affect your outcomes later in time.

This is a bit of a clunky concept, but it should become clearer with an example.

A division within an organization may have a goal (or objective) to achieve sales of $1m in a year. This would be a lag goal, reflecting actual sales achieved over a period of time. It might not be possible to get a clear picture of progress in relation to this goal over the course of the year though, particularly if most sales are finalized at the year end. Instead, a series of lead goals could up used to assess performance. For example, “Leads Generated”, “Sales Inquiries” or “Tenders submitted” could all be lead goals, leading indicators which should correlate with the lag goal of future sales.

Outcome, performance and process goals

Sport also provides some insight into the concept of goals. In the sporting arena, as in business, achievement if affected by many different factors, not all of which are in control of the athletes.

Outcome goals

Outcome goals are the big picture achievement that athletes don’t have full control over. These are things like Olympic medals, Tournament Wins or Race podiums. Outcome goals are dependent not only on your own performance, but on everyone else’s performance as well. Perhaps an analogy in the business would could be something like “customer satisfaction rankings” within an industry.

Performance goals

Performance goals are the personal achievements of an athlete that contribute towards their achievement of an outcome. A sporting example could be how long it takes you to run 100 meters. Remember though, just because you personally deliver a great performance, doesn’t mean you’ll achieve a great outcome. From a business perspective these can be thought of as similar to the Lag goals described above.

Process goals

Process goals from a sporting perspective are actions you can take which are fully in your control which contribute towards your achievement of performance goals, which in turn contribute towards the achievement of potential outcome goals. These could include things like “lengths swum in pool per week”, “average wattage achieved on bike for x duration” on “number of coaching psychology sessions completed”. These are very similar to the lead indicators discussed above in relation to business in that they are leading indicators of potential future performance related outcomes.

The World of Work Project View

While some of the language used in these types of conversations is a bit confusing, what people are trying to say is that there are longer term goals that are outcomes and shorter term goals that contribute to these outcomes.

The underlying concept of different types of goals is useful and it’s helpful for individuals and organizations to have a range of goals to work towards and through which to measure performance.

Sources and further reading

Where possible we always recommend that people read up on the original sources of information and ideas.

This post is based on our experience setting goals and working with teams and individuals in relation to goals in our respective careers. We’re not aware of who created the source material on Outcome, Performance and Process goals. If you know, please let us know. In the mean time, the book: “Coaching for Performance” covers some of this content and provides a useful starting point for sports coaching.

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