Thursday, January 26, 2012

Set Goals as Outcomes, Not Activities

You will increase your personal and organizational effectiveness by setting your goals as “outcomes” instead of “activities.”

In my first blog about Goals, I encouraged you to set more goals.  Now we will focus on how to set them most effectively.

Setting goals as outcomes makes you focus on what you really want.  Consider the simple example of this goal:

“To receive $500,000 for the annual fund by June 30, 2012.”

This is an outcome-based goal.  It does not say that 100,000 fund-raising letters will be mailed out that year or that 10,000 phonathon calls will be made.  It is an outcome – money will be received.

When you are considering goals for a certain domain of activity – whether it is personal or organizational – ask yourself “What is the RESULT I/we really want?”  In the case above, you want money!

Once you set an outcome-based goal then it is totally fine to connect activity-based goals to them.  The problem is that, far too often, all people set are activity goals.  And just because the activity gets completed it does not mean that the desired result has been produced.

Unfortunately, outcome-based goals are all too rare in organizations.  It seems much easier to list the activities that an individual or team is going to work on rather than the specific outcomes that the activities are intended to produce.  One of the reasons that we lack outcomes is that our language around performance lacks rigor.  When a supervisor meets with their direct reports, for example, the question is typically something like “What are you working on during the upcoming quarter?” instead of “What outcomes will you produce during the upcoming quarter?” 

This lack of rigor makes it more difficult for people to be held accountable.  Completing a task is easier than completing a task that produces an agreed upon outcome.  This lack of rigor exists at the individual level, at the team level, and at the organizational level.  People resist setting outcome-based goals because activity-based goals don’t engender much accountability.  When we set personal goals, we need to overcome this.  And as supervisors, we need to require people to set outcome based goals.

Setting outcomes can be challenging for some types of work, but it can be done.  Two excellent resources that can help you in establishing goals as outcomes are Make Success Measurable (1999) by my friend Doug Smith and First Break All the Rules (Buckingham & Coffman, 1999)

Setting goals as outcomes is just the beginning.  Stay tuned for much more ahead in this series to help you set goals more effectively and therefore make even more of a Mission Impact.

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