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Goal Setting

Developing Outcome Focused Sub-Goals or Sub-Tasks to Accomplish Big Goals

July 20, 2012 by Dr. Jon Warner in Goal Setting

It is easy to think that once a few goals for the year have been established for an individual, he or she can simply “get on with it” and just “check-in” when they have a question from time to time. Unfortunately, big goals can be both large in their scope and complex to achieve and may therefore need a lot more detail before an individual feels comfortable enough to pursue them. If this is not the case, many people will just see an ultimate target as being “out of reach” and give up before they start.

In many circumstances, a longer term objective may need to have additional detail to help shape potential actions in the short term. This might mean developing somewhere between 4 or 6 sub-goals or sub-tasks that reflect what needs to happen to achieve the overall goal or outcome you are seeking. Less than 4 sub-goals is appropriate if only simple tasks are involved but any more than 6 may over complicate or confuse people who may be expected to help or contribute in achieving the larger goal. Hence, an objective to “reduce waste by 30% within 2 years” for one individual might have the following 4 sub-goals:

  1. ‘document all the types of waste in the first 3 months’
  2. ‘measure current levels of waste in each category within 6 months’
  3. ‘form waste management teams to address waste targets by end of the first year’
  4. ‘develop supplier relationships to jointly address future consumption needs in the second year’

It is also important to remember to ensure that sub-goals need to be specifically developed or written up in ‘outcome’ rather than ‘input’ focused manner. An example here might be in setting an overall objective to “double the hits on the company website within 12 months by posting more relevant articles.” Input goals are usually things like “write a new article a week” or “invest 10 hours of time a month in tracking article hits.” However, these input-based goals may or may not mean that you achieve your target. Instead, you may want to develop goals that are output focused such as “achieve double the number of site visits or page impressions within 6 months” or “increase customer visits to the site from article postings by 25% in 3 months.”

The featured video clip is a short excerpt from the ReadyToManage, Rapid Skill Builder eLearning program, Goals & Objective Setting: An RSB eLearning Course.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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One Comment

  1. TiffanyJune 28, 2016 at 10:51 pm

    I think the emphasis on the outcome rather than the input goals is key here. By emphasizing the outcome, it will shift the quality of work produced in favor of the desired outcome.

About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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