My working definition of a goal is this: a desired result which is a step towards a bigger vision, and to which an action plan is attached. People often get confused with the differences between goals, intentions, outcomes and even responsibilities.
An intention differs from a goal in that it is bigger and broader than a goal. Intentions are not usually specific and measurable and they don’t always have a time frame or deadline associated with them. A goal is always specific, measurable, and has a time frame or deadline. Intentions aren’t concrete the way goals are; rather, intentions are thoughts about ourselves-thoughts about who we want and need to be.
Here are some examples of intentions:
1. I intend to get fit.
2. As a business owner, I intend to serve my customers in a way that keeps them coming back.
3. Now that I’m retired, I intend to give back to my community.
Usually you create an intention before you create a goal. In the above examples, each intention is aiming at a particular outcome, but is not specific and measurable, nor does it have a timeframe.
Goals versus Outcomes
Goals and outcomes are sometimes used interchangeably, and often confused. An outcome is a change that is likely to take place or a change that has taken place; it is a change in the status or condition of something.
The word outcome and the concept of outcomes are highly used in the education, training, and medical worlds. For example:
- Learning outcomes that are clearly articulated will increase student motivation.
- What are the desired outcomes of this training program?
- The outcome of the obesity study was that two-thirds of the participants lost ten or more pounds.
In each of the above examples, the outcome(s) refers to a change that will take place or a change that has taken place. Outcomes are a “bigger picture” result than goals. Goals are used to achieve desired outcomes. They are stepping stones on the way to achieving a particular outcome.
Here is an example of the difference between an outcome and a goal:
Outcome: I’d like to increase my net worth.
Correlating goal: Design a family budget by December 31 and fully implement it next year.
There are two outcomes in goal setting, the outcome we want and the outcome we get (what actually happens). Sometimes these two outcomes are one and the same. In some instances the final outcome may be better than the desired outcome, and sometimes we don’t reach our desired outcome.
Goals versus Objectives
People often use the words goals and objectives interchangeably. However, in the framework of goal setting, there’s an important distinction between goals and objectives. In the same way intentions and outcomes are at a higher level than goals, goals are at a higher level than objectives. Objectives can be thought of as stepping stones or sub-goals.
The purpose of an objective is to help accomplish the goal. When it comes to the goal setting process, the term objective is used more often in academia and the corporate world than it is in small business or everyday life.
Goals versus Responsibilities
Let’s not confuse a goal with responsibility. Webster’s defines responsibility as “a particular burden of obligation upon one who is responsible.” In my world, goals are not allowed to be burdens. Goals are not something we set or achieve out of obligation. We set goals because we really, really want to achieve them, not because we think we should.
Goals are not intentions, outcomes, objectives or responsibilities. Goals are something we really, really want; they are a step towards a bigger vision, and have an action plan attached to them.