Goal vs Process

In this post, I’ll elaborate on the two kinds of approaches we can have while working on any task– goal oriented approach and process oriented approach. We’ll see what do we mean by these approaches, how these are characteristically different, some interesting examples of both these approaches for the same task and finally if one of this approach is better than the other.

Goal oriented approach primarily focuses on the end goal of the task. With this approach, we try to reach that aim in the easiest possible way. No wonder, we optimize and do whatever least is required to reach the goal using this approach. How something is done– is not as significant as long as we finally obtain the goal. Also two people who have achieved the same goal are similar from this point of view although they might have taken different paths to reach that goal.

On the other hand, process oriented approach focuses on the way of achieving a goal rather than the goal itself. With this approach, we care about how things are done. There is an inherent motivation to do things well rather than just getting things done. With this approach, we are okay if it takes longer to get something done if we are able to improve the process. And when we look at two people who might be at same level, we focus on how they reached where they are instead of where they are.

Let’s take an example, consider a student who is learning a new course. A goal oriented student who aims for an A grade will do what it takes to get that grade. He might not focus on aspects of the course which will not contribute in adding to the grade. On the other hand, a process oriented student will focus on learning all the skills he can from that course. There is an intrinsic motivation to actually learn and know more about a variety of aspects of the course.

Similarly, take a person working on a project at his workplace. A goal oriented person will do whatever he has been told to do, and nothing more. On the other hand, a process oriented person cares about the work he is doing and takes ownership of the project. He does not just stop at doing what he has been told. But goes a step forward and thinks of ways in which the project can be improved by maybe automating something, updating the algorithm of a module etc.

Also, it’s not the case that goal oriented people don’t care about the process and process oriented people don’t care about the goal. It is not just possible but likely, that a goal oriented person follows a process and a process oriented person has some goal. Thus both these aspects go hand in hand. But the approaches tell what we primarily care about while working on anything– is it the end-goal or is it the process of achieving a goal?

In my opinion, mostly it is lot more fun to do things in a process oriented way instead of goal oriented way. In goal oriented approach, we think that we will be happy when we achieve the goal. It is indeed true that we are happy on achieving a goal, but that happiness and satisfaction is short-lasted and pretty soon we are ready to go after another goal. On the other hand, following a process oriented approach, one can be happy of following a particular process and there is also great satisfaction is improving a process. If we quantify the total satisfaction, I’m sure we are lot more happy and satisfied following process oriented approaches rather than goal oriented approaches.

Failures strike much harder in a goal oriented approach. There can be a variety of reasons due to which we might not be able to achieve a goal we planned to achieve. And a goal oriented approach makes it much harder to accept failures, and it is likely that instead of learning from the failures, we might take these failures personally due to our inability to achieve a goal. On the other hand, failures are very different in a process oriented approach. Failures are about a particular process not working well for the task at hand. And there are always other alternate ways to try and different lessons to learn. Thus it is easier to understand, accept and learn from failures this way!

Goal oriented approach is useful in situations where it is urgent to get something done. Sometimes the intense pressure can be useful to innovate and optimize the way of achieving a goal. It can be productive and useful in the short run. However it might be difficult to sustain this approach during the long run.

Goal oriented — Stepping stones || Process oriented — Steering ship

I thought of an interesting analogy of these two approaches. A goal oriented approach is like jumping on stepping stones. We are completely focused on landing firmly on the next stone and then on the next stone and then on the next stone. All our efforts and vision is focused and directed on the stepping stones and everything else in the background is a blur. On the other hand, process oriented approach is like steering a ship. Ofcourse one has a goal to reach but in this case, the primary focus is on how the ship is steered. Also on the journey, one can look at the scenery around, spot birds and fishes and enjoy. It is not a distraction from reaching the goal, but overall a more satisfying experience.

Thus, we can approach the things we want to do in life using either of these approaches. And the same thing can be done very differently using either of these approaches and in turn it can be a very different experience for us. Process oriented approach can let us enjoy and learn during the journey while goal oriented approach can make us strongly pursue the desired outcomes! Finally the choice lies in our hands regarding which approach we choose!

Image Credits:
1. Stepping stones – Background photo created by kjpargeter – www.freepik.com
2. Steering ship – Vintage photo created by v.ivash – www.freepik.com