Process vs Outcome Orientation

06 Apr

I have been intrigued to understand how elite athletes who go on to break world-records and win Olympic medals would go about setting up such big and audacious goals for themselves. What kind of mind-set, goal setting techniques and training regime would  help them scale such big heights and how does the journey look like?  May be there is something for us outside the sports arena to learn how to set goals and then go in a methodological manner to achieve them.

I have learnt that the goal setting for elite athletes happen at three levels:

  • Outcome goals : Winning the XXX m swimming race at the next Olympic
  • Performance goals : The race needs to be completed in less than 60 seconds for any chance to win the gold medal
  • Process goals: Particular aspects of the technique for example push off from the starting block, ramp-up in the last 5-10 metres etc.

While the outcome goals are important to keep one motivated, it is the process goals which help them get to realize their dream and that is exactly what they focus on during the training regime.  World-cup winning Indian cricket team mental conditioning coach Paddy Upton said in an interview  “ I help create a favorable performance environment for the team. I help remove distraction and make sure that the players are focused on preparation and strategy. I keep their focus on their performance rather than the outcome

Looking at the parallels in corporate and personal life, a number of us do have big ambitious goals/new year resolutions or go about setting objectives and goals for our teams but mostly with an outcome orientation. Most of the times the outcome looks that far away that we give up mid-way because:

  • The enormity of the outcome takes away the fun associated with the process of getting to the destination
  • We do not know how to achieve the outcome as the process is not clear

Specifically, I have learnt the following:

  • It is important to break-down your personal and professional goals into specific performance and process goals which you can measure regularly. Easier said than done but worth a try!
  • Do not let the difficulty of the outcome come in the way of you enjoying the process to get there. In the end you still may not have achieved 100% of where you want to get to, but you would have enjoyed the journey and grown in the process rather than getting nervous about the outcome through-out.
  • If you do not clearly understand the process to get to a specific outcome, make sure you spend time outlining the process. In a corporate set-up both manager and employee are equally responsible to break down the output goals into specific performance and process goals.
  • When comparing yourself against folks who you think are really good in any given area, try and find more about the journey which took them there rather than focusing on just their end state. Reading autobiographies for example can give one a glimpse of the process and not only the outcome!

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