Goal Oriented or Process Oriented?

If you’ve ever created a resume, I’m sure you’ve heard something along the lines of “make sure you put ‘goal oriented’ somewhere in there. Employers like that.” If you’ve ever owned a business, you understand the idea of being goal oriented better than most, since without goals you wouldn’t have started the business in the first place, you can’t make quarterly or yearly projections, and your business doesn’t grow.

Yet, being goal oriented isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say that while being goal oriented is good in the short run, in the long run it is most certainly detrimental to anyone who goes by that mindset exclusively.

Let’s put this to the test: have you ever met people who at a young age achieved something big in their lives, only to live the rest of their lives in the shadows of that accomplishment? These people are always spinning their wheels trying to somehow recapture that former glory: they talk about their past successes and do everything they can to get back to that point in their lives. Yet, their quest is ultimately futile, because they are so focused on the goal that they forget (or ignore) how it was they attained the goal in the first place.

Now, compare that person to the most successful people you know, in any field. I’ll be willing to bet this website and all the content in it that these people focus more on improving than anything else, at least in the area where they are most successful. While interested in attaining goals — not a one of them will tell you goals are not important — they attain those goals by employing a process of continual growth and improvement, and that the goals eventualities.

While being goal oriented is good to an extent — everyone reading this should have goals and be working some sort of plan to attain them — most people fall into the first group, those who focus primarily on being goal oriented and as such end up missing the elephant in the room: the process. Goal oriented people are people who strive and fight and move for the sake of attaining a goal. Likewise, process oriented people are folks who strive and fight and move because they’re looking to improve. Both of these people will achieve their goals, but unlike process oriented people, goal oriented people run the risk of getting to a goal and then sitting there, happily resting on their laurels. These folks can sometimes go the rest of their lives without realizing that while they may be achieving the goals they’re setting, they aren’t growing: by not focusing on the process, the goals they’re setting are a result of immediate necessity, and aren’t building anything up. These goals aren’t pushing them or making them grow.

So, what’s so important about goals? Simply put, without a goal there is no process. To impress upon you the importance of that statement, I’ll say it again: Without a goal, there is no process. Once a goal is set, however, once you know where you’re going, you have to pay close attention to how you’re getting there. Look at your goals regularly to make sure you’re on the right path, but pay close attention to improving your process while you get there.

Unlike those who are goal oriented, process oriented people will work towards their goal in such a way that in the process of attaining their goals, they stretch themselves and learn. These people will learn from their mistakes and will work not just to achieve a goal, but to ensure that when they achieve that goal they are better than they were before they started for that goal.

For goal oriented people growth is sometimes incidental: they grow only because their goal requires them to. Process oriented people, on the other hand, attain goals because their process will take them in that direction anyway. For them, growth is not incidental, it is necessary, and goals are eventual. Because of this difference, the goal oriented person will not necessarily be able to look past the goal to the next goal until they get there. The process oriented person will instead already be thinking about future goals, since everything they do is focused to the process of improving: goals just give them a direction in which to move. To the goal oriented person, goals are end points. To the process oriented person, they’re simply mile markers.

Now, why did I start thinking about this? This past weekend, I was examining the way I go about my goals in some of what I do. I realized that whenever I did something I loved — be it music, writing, or whatever else — I always focused on the process of improving, and that as such opportunities came without necessarily having been sought which allowed me to grow more. On the other hand, whenever I did something I didn’t love, but that I felt I had to do, I became very goal oriented, and would approach it with the same attitude I go about cleaning my house with: let’s get this over with. In the first I always met with success, even in the face of more than just a few drawbacks. In the second, I almost always met with eventual failure, since no matter how quickly I achieved my goal it would not lead me to greater goals, and instead left me on a perpetual treadmill with lots of running and no place to go.

So, the question is now with you. Look at your own life. Are there areas in which you are process oriented versus goal oriented (and vice versa)? In what areas could you make the shift from goal oriented to process oriented? How would this help you out? Remember: it’s never too late to start improving.

Ever hear the phrase “success is a journey, not a destination”? That’s because success is in the process. The greatest measure of personal success is not what one gets from it, but rather what one becomes through it.

35 thoughts on “Goal Oriented or Process Oriented?

  1. Well, you write different concept about goal oriented. For me Goal oriented means we must keep on going to see our goal because sometimes process is painful. People sometimes fail in process, but because they are goal oriented, they got motivated to try again.

    Goal oriented also learn to grow. but to make it effective, people mostly learn how to achieved our goal. Remember, our live limited by time. We cannot learn anything we want.

  2. How does someone become Process Orientated? I’m trawling the internet now for clues and there don’t seem to be so much information on this.

    I am VERY goal orientated…exactly as you describe goal orientated her that is how i am and for that reason when things go on for longer than I feel necessary, i am not in a good mood and get upset if I have to deal with it.

    Have you got any other tips or pointsers?

    Thanks,
    Bati

  3. Hey, Bati:
    How does one become process oriented. That’s a pretty good question. Frankly, I’ve found that becoming process oriented is a matter to making sure you’re improving in order to attain your goal.

    Here’s an example: suppose your goal is to have a painting ready for your mom’s birthday, which is in a month. Suppose also that you want to become a painter. If you’re solely goal oriented, then really there’s no connection between the two: your goal is to become a painter, but there’s no date to it. The goal is also to have a painting for your mom, but there’s no process to that. At the end of the month, being completely goal oriented, you decide to buy your mom a paining and maybe accenting with some of the skills you’ve learned as a painter. While you were able to get her a customized paining, you really didn’t do much for becoming a painter.

    Suppose you’re instead process oriented. Now you have your goal and a deadline: your mom’s birthday. So, you start focusing on the process, your skills as a painter. You already have the goal (mom’s birthday), so although you have to keep focusing on it in order to make sure you’re not veering off the path, you focus more on the process of becoming a better painter so that you can create that painting for her. When her birthday comes you finally have a paining for her. Better still, you’re now a better painter, because you paid attention to the process of learning, and because of this you can now work towards higher goals, like getting your paintings in an art gallery. And, you find out, there’s an open submissions call for a show in two months.

    Had you simply focused on getting your mom the picture WITHOUT focusing on the process, then there’d be no way for you to even think about the art gallery submission. If, however, you focus on the process, without losing track of the goal, even if you miss the goal, the process has helped you ensure that the next time you’ll won’t fail.

    Hope this helps. (And if I’m being too confusing, please ask me to clarify. I’m sure you’re not the only person with this question.)

  4. that does help greatly…thanks for that example. I have recently been promoted and my goal orientated skills are turning the job from a creative managerial type role into a purely administrative one so, as you can imagine this is so important to me. Thanks again!

    ….oh and if you have any other articles or any reference books you can point me to I’d much appreciate it. :o))

  5. I think the difference here is for goal oriented people, we work to “make status” or “complete something”. Once we “make it” we stop, and we want to “live it up”. We see this invisible class barrier, that once passed, we have “made it”. Process oriented people continually work to “learn”, ignoring their current status as “behind” or “ahead” compared to others, and never are really bothered by “making it” or not. They are faithful that their learning will bear fruit by working towards a goal, rather than meeting goals, its kind of a Confucian ideology. Western society is very status oriented and therefore goal oriented, so once we achieve a status, development stops or slows. That is kind of why East Asians who are process oriented, are leaving the West in the dust in terms of technological development, and its why Western society is really getting in over our heads by allowing China to develop into a superpower, and why Japan has managed to become the world’s technology leader, and why Hyundai is feared by Toyota over any European or American car company.

  6. I find this topic very interesting. As a goal-oriented person myself, I don’t agree that I’m missing out on the ‘process.’ When I achieve the goal I was aiming for, I find another goal. Along the way, I make many mistakes, I learn, I grow and I continue. Is this the ‘process’ that you are talking about? I think it’s a natural part of goal-setting. When you achieve a goal, why would you stop? Does this make me a process-oriented person?

  7. @Tanya: You hit the “process” portion when you mention that you learn and grow. Sometimes we get so caught up in the pursuit of a goal that we cheat the growth process, and that’s when the goal is detrimental to the process.

    And from what you mention, it sounds very much like you’re a process oriented person. But, as mentioned above, you need both a goal and the process. Fail to include one in your focus and you sabotage yourself.

  8. But…what if your goal is a sub-goal of a primary goal. Primary goal: I want to become Mom’s favorite. Sub goal: I will show-up siblings via Mom’s birthday with painting for present. Process: I really didn’t improve my painting skills but I did find a great painting, last minute.

    I’m satisfied: I a) met my goal and b) not regretful that the process didn’t involve my becoming a better painter, but it did rank me as Mom’s favorite:)

    When I care about becoming a better painter simultaneously to Mom’s favorite, my process will reflect this.

  9. This is a weird and problematic issue of semantics. Even a process-oriented person is oriented toward the *goal* of improving. Without a goal, nothing gets done. Period. What I think this discussion is trying to elucidate is the difference between the start-and-stop people and the constant movers, between narrow-minded people and the broad thinkers, between short-sighted folks and long-term thinkers, between the rigid and the flexible. These semantics, though, are problematic because “goals” are always part of the picture.

  10. I’m actually a process-oriented person and I’m having a really difficult time being goal-oriented and I’m not sure I even want to be. My husband “enlightened” me about my orientation a few days ago, asking me “Do you get satisfaction out of accomplishing a goal?” My answer was “not really”…and he said “yeah, you’re more about ‘smelling the roses’ on the way” which is exactly how I go about accomplishing my goals. I learn along the way and that’s what motivates me…not getting to the goal.

    Unfortunately, I work among a group of goal-oriented people. I work at an enviro group, so for “fun”, we go hiking. I say “fun” because it’s not fun for me to hike with goal-oriented people. They are all about getting to the top of the mountain or the end of the trail…and I’m all about taking my time and learning along the way. Even though I frequently encourage them to just “leave me behind” while I slowly move along, I almost always end up feeling like the odd one out….

    Also, I have a goal of losing about 60 pounds, but I’m not really that excited or enthusiastic about the process…ergo, it’s not happening!! All the info I’ve read about losing weight is goal-oriented and I’m not necessarily . Got any suggestions?

  11. I recently did a personality test which explained to me that I’m a process oriented person. Which led me to this article to find out really what that means.
    As for D. and a goal of loosing weight as a process oriented person you might be better of by approaching it from a ‘how to be healthy’ perspective. Learn what food to eat and which should be avoided how much exercise is needed and so on. While you’re improving your health you will find that goal of loosing weight is achieving itself. Plus ‘I want to be healthy’ sounds a lot better than ‘I want to loose weight’

  12. I agree with Artur. If your goal is to lose weight, when you lose the weight you set for yourself, you might stop doing what you did to reach that weight and regain it all back. Whereas, living a healthy lifestyle entails managing a healthy weight, and other little sub goals that are important. Living a healthy lifestyle is ongoing goal that requires a step by step process that should never stop

  13. D. This is so true about process oriented. I my self find the process as a Holiday Travel Tour. It’s like somebody is taking me through different places and showing me around while I’m having fun and automaticly I get better at whatever I’m doing as well. The real question is I think, whether process oriented individuals can achieve high goals. Because when I’m doing something that I enjoy. I often forget what my actual goal is, because I’m having so much fun you see…

  14. Goal-oriented: “I want to make one million dollars” (mini-me raises little finger to lips).

    Process-oriented: “Now that I’ve made one million dollars I’ve decided I never want to stop making money, and too much is not enough”.

    e.g. The CEO of NIKE saying to Michael Moore: “it’s no longer about the money. It’s about making this company the best it can be”.
    -Huh? WTF. And what does that mean? Making it the best it can be?

    I think we all know what that means. How about double-speak for:

    “I still can’t stop wanting to make as much money as possible even though I have more than I could possibly spend in 10 lifetimes, but I just can’t get out of the habit, -I can’t turn my back on the process that brought me to where I am today. Plus exploiting all those peasants who work for me in sweat shops in repressive Indonesia for 40 cents an hour (actually I think it’s 48 cents) is what I live for. If I wasn’t doing that I wouldn’t know WTF to do with my life, but it’s a meaningful process, until I figure out what I’m doing on this planet, beyond depriving the devastatingly poor of any chance of a livelihood”.

    How about that for a process and a guy who knows where he’s going?

  15. I generally agree with the article, and I think many people are looking at this as an either-or/black-white definition. Like many human characteristics, there is a range of gradations between the extremes of each category.

    I would say the most extreme goal-oriented person would literally lie, cheat, steal, kill and do whatever it takes to win the prize, regardless of the process. Again, that’s an EXTREME. I’m not generalizing all goal-oriented people.

    The most extreme process-oriented people never finish anything, because there is always more to do, more process to learn, more ways to improve before something is truly complete. They may never achieve any recognizable success to outside observers. They cannot see the forest for the trees.

    In between is a range that includes most of us. Probably the most successful people, professionally and personally, find the best balance between these behaviors, and know when to favor one over the other, depending on the time and resources available. Most of us would define ourselves as one or the other just by our natural tendencies, but we can all learn to strengthen the other side and achieve more balance.

    As an example, I tend to be a process-oriented person. I can take a little longer to achieve goals because it’s important to me how I get there. I’m always interested in learning new things, gaining new skills, improving my skills and actually enjoying what I’m doing to reach my goals. Each step of the process is important to me and deserves attention. Admittedly, this can slow me down and derail my momentum at times, but recently I have been shifting my attention more and more to making goals happen while prioritizing which processes and steps are more important, and which deserve less attention.

    These labels are useful shorthands in presenting ourselves to a potential working relationship, so the other party knows what to expect from us, but we need not limit ourselves to these definitions.

  16. Being a Research Adviser, this article is very useful and added my understanding between the two concepts (goal oriented and process oriented). My students conducted study about at what level students in college mostly dominant of being either goal oriented or action oriented type.

    Then findings revealed that these two are built-in traits in every students in 50/50 percentage. the behavioral characteristics that students will portray whether to become more goal-oriented or process oriented is situational or conditional to the varying circumstances based on the 20 different situations given in the questionaires with 2 options for selection that categorized GO and PO. And I agree with this article, it takes a realistic goal to have motivation but it is very important to include skills to process goals. But achieving goals gives a feeling of satisfaction and fulfillment in order to be leveled “Accomlished Person”, but should not be trap at this momentum and must continue to grow in order to improve, upgrade, and to have much better and good quality of life.

  17. Good post Gnorb, Jack and Brandon also added some important aspects there.

    Things that I’ve done particularly well, have been when I’ve had the confidence or decided to disregard the end point entirely, and just focus on each thing that is in my field of view at that point in time.

    So I was partly motivated in the process by my goal, but in fact it’s the confidence or deliberate disregard for the end goal that allows you to devote yourself to and find the joy in the process. Of course your goal does from time to time intrude when necessary (e.g. exams), but the process has set you up to easily do what is required.

    That is, of course, the great thing about following or discovering something that you love doing or get into a groove with. Everything can fall into place neatly.

    The question is, what if all you want to do is a good enough job at x or y? That’s been a recipe for disaster in my experience, I don’t seem able to make that work. I’ve tried to think of some advice but I really just get back to: see if you can think of the thing from process-oriented attitude, and if you can’t, make a plan to change course and have that as your new target. Does anyone else have some more flexible advice?

    Cheers

  18. And how do you achieve a balance there? I can’t seem to do a ‘good enough’ job. It’s either the best I can do or it’s mediocre and so doesn’t do me any good. I haven’t got a goal I feel is worth devoting my life to, yet it’s either on or off for me!

  19. Thank you for the explaination. I could not decide when asked which I was. I thought about it and decided I was not goal oriented or motivated but at the same time I am always moving towards a goal. This confused me until I read your explaination. I am definately into the Process to achieve my goals rather than looking at the end result as my bonus.

      1. Hey Gnorb,
        Very much interesting. I am not in a position to define my self weather I am Goal Oriented or Process-oriented person. My aim is to improve my English writing skill and become good report writer. I planned to start from the scrach and learn all the process to reach to my goal , but found I am too late to study all english writing skill development requirements.and terminated my study. I planed to be goal orented and started to read the reports of diffeent writers and stated to work with native English speakers, I found this not worths good to me.

        Please help me where I am is situated? Which rute leads me to the better and good result?
        Thanks
        G Daniel

  20. Interesting. I use these terms a bit differently. “Driven,” to me, refers to the motivational system. If you’re talking journey vs. destination, I place more importance on the journey, growth. On a day-to-day basis at work, though, I NEED a goal to stay engaged. I hate being on the treadmill of task after task after task repeated ad nausem. I much prefer work assignments with a beginning, middle, and end.

Share your thoughts