Goal Setting Activities: From Process to Product to Outcome

One challenge in creating goals is defining what the goal is. We generally have some sense that a goal is a future state or milestone, associated with some good thing. How do we translate that into goal statements that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely?

Here’s an example. The CS Company relies on subcontractors to directly provide services to customers.  Based on customer feedback, CS managers think there are inconsistencies in how these subcontractors deliver the services, but they aren’t entirely sure what to do about it. There have been several meetings to discuss the matter, but with no specific goals.

This is a great case study for understanding goal setting. In fact, CS could develop several possible goals, associated with process, products and outcomes.

  • A Process Goal: Define the Problem. Setting a goal to understand the problem itself is powerful. One goal could be to define the problem, if there is one. Defining the problem is an example of a process goal – the output is a problem statement, and a project plan for moving forward.
  • A Product Goal: Customer Survey. Defining the problem may require a product goal, like a customer survey. The survey would be designed to gather feedback from customers to validate any inconsistencies between the subcontractors, and if so, what the implication is. The survey results would be a product. The survey itself is not an outcome; however, setting interim goals helps you more clearly analyze situations, and determine subsequent goals.
  • A Product Goal: Subcontractor Training. The customer survey does reveal a problem in consistency between subcontractors, and the implication is that customers are not being fairly treated. This leads to a new product goal: a training program to teach subcontractors how to implement the requirements accurately and precisely. All subcontractors must complete the training by a certain date.
  • A Process Goal: Define Performance Measures. How will CS know the training has been successful? Training may be a product, but it does not necessarily lead to the desired outcomes. This requires a new process goal: defining the performance measures that will tell us that the training has been successful and that, in fact, it addressed the problem.
  • An Outcome Goal: Greater Consistency, More Satisfied Customers. In the end, the outcome-related goal is more consistency between subcontractors, as measured through some process (observation) or products (testing) and validated through future products (customer surveys).

This sequence highlights a key point in goal setting: you are never done. Solving one problem merely creates new problems, and the need for new goals. Goal setting is not a one-time activity – it is a continuously evolving need. Smart organizations view goal setting as a process and not an event.