Excellence continues its reign as the most sought-after goal.  Manufacturing excellence.  Sales excellence.  Marketing excellence.  Leadership excellence.  Personal excellence.  You get the point, excellence in everything.  But here’s the thing: excellence shouldn’t be the focus, the pursuit of excellence should.  Recognizing this subtle shift in focus requires an understanding of the different types of goals.

Too often, people and organizations only set outcome goals, the lag indicators of focused effort, not the lead indicators. Trophies, titles, and awards, or market share, margins, and stock price are examples of lag indicators, which serve as proxies for excellence.  But what about the actions and behaviors required to achieve the outcome goals? The stuff that we can control and that we should pursue daily?  These are the lead indicators, the process goals.

People have forgotten to use the full complement of goal types and have jumped directly to setting outcome goals.  Identifying and using different types of goals has been lost in practice, and this is a problem.  People might have well-written outcome goals following the principles of effective goal setting.  For example, the goal might be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART), or follow the newer FAST approach (frequently discussed, ambitious, specific, and transparent).

But if there are only well-written outcome goals, without the awareness and inclusion of the other types of goals, the results often don’t materialize, and frustration and dissatisfaction ensue.  Understanding the different types of goals must come first. Then, once the different types of goals have been considered, goals can be written using the principles of goal setting as a guide.

The research is clear—to improve performance and to get results, a mix of different types of goals that follow goal setting principles is the most effective.  The world of athletics offers three types of goals that are transferrable to business, professional development, and personal growth: outcome, performance, and process goals.

Outcome goals are outward focused and include such things as winning a championship in sports or being the market leader in business. Performance goals are desired standards, such as finishing a half-marathon in under two hours or increasing inbound marketing conversions by 10%.  Process goals focus on the behaviors and actions directly within our control, such as following-up every shot on goal for forwards in soccer.  Or in business, a leader sending hand-written notes expressing genuine appreciation for a colleague’s efforts.

People and organizations can build their staircase for success, using process, performance, and outcome goals as the steps. And if done correctly, the odds of success are stacked in their favor because their goal-setting efforts generate direction, persistence, and motivation.  Using the full complement of goal types is what makes goal setting an effective motivator.  The foundation, or the first step on that staircase to success, is the process goals.

Individuals and organizations should focus on the pursuit of excellence, not excellence itself.  The pursuit of excellence is the first step on that staircase to success, the process goals.  It is the controllable factor, those behaviors and actions that we can control. On the other hand, excellence is a fluid and evolving outcome goal.  Excellence is something that people and organizations must consistently and continuously pursue.

As such, the pursuit of excellence remains the constant over time and must become your focus, your priority.  Understanding goal types and shifting your focus to process goals, instead of outcome goals, will dramatically improve effort, persistence, and motivation. These are the factors required to drive the actions and behaviors consistently over time that produce those desirable outcomes.  If you focus on the pursuit, you will be amazed at what you achieve.

(Originally published by the Reading Eagle Business Weekly on 7-22-19)