This article was based on episode 112 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio and Stitcher. Get the episode guide when you become a member at themodernmanager.com/join. Purchase full episode guides at themodernmanager.com/shop.
There are a few words in business that hold essential concepts and yet are surprisingly ambiguous. Among those are terms such as strategy, values, and collaboration, but the one that seems to permeate the entirety of an organization is goals.
We write goals for the organization, department, team and individual. We write them annually, quarterly, and sporadically whenever a new project is launched. Goals are often at the heart of the work, grounding the thinking and action that comes after them. If you don’t get your goals right, it’s almost impossible to get the rest of it right.
THREE TYPES OF GOALS SERVE THREE DIFFERENT PURPOSES
You may be familiar with SMART goals or OKRs or many of the other goal writing formats and structures. Each of those brings a valuable frame to goal writing. But at the most basic level, I find it useful to consider three types of goals:
Impact goals focus on the final result or outcome. They answer the questions: What do we want to achieve at the end of the day? What result are we trying to attain?
Examples of impact goals:
Secure 3 new clients
Bring in $10,000 of new revenue
Develop trust in our team culture
Maintain high ratings for customer service
Increase productivity by 10%
Impact goals are often out of our direct control. They are the result of our action which follows an if-then logic. If we continue to respond to customer inquiries within 4 hours, we’ll maintain high ratings for customer service. There is no guarantee that our actions, initiatives or projects will produce the impact goal, only that it is the goal we are striving for, not the actions or initiatives themselves.
Impact goals can be challenging because of this tenuous connection between our actions and the ultimate results. Plus, sometimes we aren't able to fully measure the impact or it may take weeks, months or sometimes longer to fully realize an impact goal. While frustrating, the difficulty in measurement is not a reason to abandon impact goals. Instead, it’s helpful to look for signs you’re making progress. What indicators imply you’re on the right path? A lack of those indicators may mean it's time to rethink your actions.
Output goals describe the culmination of a specific effort. They answer questions such as: What activity will we complete? What will be produced?
Examples of output goals:
Launch version 2.0
Run a new internal training course
Hire for 3 open roles
Transition onto a new accounting system
Update the vacation policy
Learn to speak Mandarin
Get certified in MBTI
Unlike impact goals, output goals tend to be short term and highly within our control. They are ideal for rallying a group of people around a shared initiative that has a clear deliverable. Their concrete nature makes it easy to stay aligned and organize the work.
Process goals focus on behavior. They answer questions such as: What actions will I take at what frequency? What activities will we do and how often?
Examples of process goals:
Call 20 potential customers each day
Write 50 lines of code per week
Send updated financial reports every Friday
Start every meeting by asking how people are doing
Take 3 deep breaths when receiving difficult to hear feedback
Write for 10 minutes every morning
Process goals help us break down impact and output goals and turn them into actions. They give us tangible behaviors to strive for. By eliminating the ambiguity and telling us exactly what to do, process goals are often easiest to accomplish.
LEVERAGE THESE THREE TYPES OF GOALS TOGETHER
Each type of goal has its unique purpose, but when combined, we are able to create a line of sight that can help us be even more effective. Output and process goals can be leading indicators for impact goals. Or, impact goals can be inspiration for output and process goals.
As you think up and down this chain from action to deliverable to result, you make things much easier on yourself and your team. By linking your process, output and impact goals you can see how things fit together and where they break down.
For example, if the outcome goal is to increase employee engagement, we may have an output goal of launching a new flexible work program. In order to help us assess our impact, we may have a process goal of surveying a random subset of employees every 2 weeks. Each of these goals independently are useful, but as a collection, they create synergy.
INCLUDE MEASURES AND TIMELINES
Often a goal statement is not comprehensive but rather a short and sweet description of the most important aim. Yet, in many cases, there are additional requirements for success. These are called measures. Measures help you assess whether you’ve achieved the goal by providing more detail. It is these details that can make or break a larger goal.
For example, I have a goal of publishing a second book. (You can check out my first book here.) Many people could have a similar goal and yet our measures may be different. Does it matter if I self publish or work with a publishing house? Do I care about the word count for the final manuscript? These factors give more context to what success means for this goal.
The other detail to include is the timeline or due dates. Time set parameters for what’s possible and established priority amongst the many things competing for our time and attention. Even an arbitrary due date is better than no due date because it allows you to at least have a conversation about adjusting the timeline. Goals without any due date almost always remain at the bottom of the pile.
There are many other factors that go into goal setting, but with this basic framework in mind, you are prepared to craft thoughtful goals that will keep you aligned with your team and able to more quickly take action that moves you forward.
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This article was based on episode 112 The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.