In-service, Training, and Staffing

Process Goals, Performance Goals, and Outcome Goals

January 11, 2017   /
Elaine M. Hinzey, RD, LDN

Process goals provide a roadmap and describe how to get where you want to be. They deal with technique and focus your attention on what you need to do to achieve your goal. These types of goals are especially useful when the goal that you have set is novel to you and not tied to any of your existing skills or experiences. These goals are generally measurable and time-bound, but they are not linked to any defined outcome.

Once you are experienced or skilled in the process goals that you have set for yourself, you can turn your attention to outcome goals. Outcome goals are kind of the flip-side of process goals, because they are not at all concerned with what actions you take to reach your goal, just as long as you reach it! Unfortunately, these types of goals can be affected by other people’s behavior. For example, if your goal is to, “save $10,000 this year,” your job, the market, and your spouse’s spending habits might serve as hindrances!

Performance goals are about your own behaviors and are unaffected by other’s behaviors. Performance goals can be used to monitor achievement of process goals and progress towards your defined goals. 

Example 1:
Process goal: I will wake up every morning and walk for 20 minutes before work.

Outcome goal: I will lose 5% of my body fat by my vacation in June.

Performance goal: I will increase the weight used in bicep curls by ten pounds this year. 

Example 2:
Process goal: I will eat a salad every day for lunch.

Outcome goal: I will place in the top ten in my age group at a marathon.

Performance goal: I will run a nine-minute mile.

Process goals likely more successful than outcome goals
In a study of 85 students using stock-investment computer simulation under experimental conditions in which goals and process and outcome feedback were varied in a completely crossed factorial design, the interaction of goal setting and process feedback was more strongly related to the quality of information search and test strategy than the interaction of goal setting and outcome feedback. 

A brief note about implementation intention
Implementation intention spells out when, where, and how portions of goal striving in advance (if situation Y is encountered, then I will initiate goal-directed behavior X). Findings from 94 independent tests showed that implementation intentions had a positive effect of medium to large magnitude on goal attainment. Implementation intentions were effective in promoting initiation of goal striving, disengagement from failing course of action, and conservation of capability for future goal striving. 

References and recommended readings

Earley PC, Northcraft GB, Lee C, Lituchy TR. Impact of process and outcome feedback on the relation of goal setting on task performance. Acad Manage J. 1990;33(1):87-105. doi:10.2307/256353.

Goal setting. Brian Mac website. Accessed February 17, 2016.

Goal setting: outcome, performance, and process goals. YSC Sports Mental Edge website. Published April 19, 2012. Accessed February 17, 2016. 

Gollwitzer PM, Sheeran P. Implementation intentions and goal achievement: a meta-analysis of effects and processes. Adv Exp Soc Psychol. 2006;38:69-119. doi:10.1016/S0065-2601(06)38002-1.

Outcome-based goals vs process-based goals. Goal Triangle website. Accessed February 17, 2016.