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When embarking on Goal Setting, there are different kinds of Goals based on the situation and the environment. Here are 3 basic types of goals:

  1. “Purely Rational Goals” which are clear and concise,
  2. “Directional Planning Goals” providing general direction, and
  3. “Breaking Through” focusing on handling immediate concerns.

In different situations, different individuals will have vastly different goals.

Purely Rational Goals

Within business, most individuals use a “purely rational” approach when they are setting goals. These goals are defined clearly and are often numerical in nature and use “SMART” guidelines in order to set measureable goals. For example, if a person wishes to lose weight they can make a goal of “getting in shape,” but it is not really a defined goal. An example of a purely rational goal is “lose 20 pounds over the next six months by working out at Murhphy’s Gym 3 days each week.” Here is how to set SMART goals. Ask yourself:

  • Who: Who will be involved in the completion of this goal?
  • What: What is it that I hope to achieve?
  • Where: Where do I need to position myself to achieve this goal?
  • When: When do I expect to have completed this goal?
  • Which: Which considerations are applicable to this goal?
  • Why: Why do I wish to achieve this goal? (the underlying benefit, purpose or reason for achieving the goal)

Directional and Domain Planning Goals

If you do not know your exact goal but do know the organization or the domain, you may set Direction-planning goals. This type of goal statement is not as specific as a rational goal. With a direction planning goal, you likely know what you wish to accomplish, but you may not be able to answer the specific “where” and “when” or other SMART elements. This type of goal may be set by a member of upper management who then leaves it to the other members of the team to establish the specifics of accomplishing the goal.

Here are some examples:

“We need to enhance brand awareness for our company.”
“We need to increase our profit margins and reduce our costs.”
“We need to deliver on our promises.”

As you can see, this type of goal is definitely lacking in the specificity department. Direction planning is acceptable for longer range goals where the outcomes cannot be easily predicted and for situations where other people need to interpret and translate the specific goal. Domain planning oftentimes is a beneficial way for upper management provide some degree of flexibility to lower level individuals and letting them work the out the specifics on their own.

Direction planning is used to address various topics, including cost and quality concerns and is also able to tackle more abstract concerns like behavior and attitudes. This type of goal is favored by creative, independent, intuitive and flexible people.

Breaking Through

Back in 1988, a group of amateur mountain climbers were caught in a storm up on Mount Rainier and as a result became stranded. It was believed that some of them were badly injured, but due to inclement weather and the darkness of night, rescue operations ceased for a while. Three independent rescue mountain climbers set out on their own to look for the missing group. When a reporter asked one of them what their plans were, he told the reporter that they planned to do “Whatever we can.”

Setting a goal can be simply “breaking through” a difficult situation. This means that the goal may be a bit unclear or that the situation is too tenuous to know exactly what the clear direction is. This is the type of goal that is most often used during a crisis. Just think about an instance where an organization is being downsized and restructured. At one meeting, an employee asked “what are we supposed to do?” The manager responded to his concerns by calmly encouraging him to “keep working,” and stating that “we will figure this out better once we know more.”

As you may guess, breaking through is a proper goal for individuals who are alright with change and ambiguity. If a particular environment is truly in flux and goals are uncertain at best, breaking through can keep activity consistent so that things are not knocked off track before it is possible to set higher-level goals.

When is it best to use the various types of goals?
As a manager you will likely use all three of these goal types. A good rule of thumb is that the “hard” topics in business generally are better dealt with via concrete and rational goals. Use the below matrix for guidance regarding a situation you are currently dealing with.

Used Best with What Topic Used Best When Used Best with Whom
Rational Goals Concrete topics (cost, quality, sales, etc.) Short-to-medium time frames; when information is available; clear commitments are necessary Concrete rational thinkers; new or inexperienced people needing more direction
Direction Planning “Big picture” topics, or where the outcome is difficult to predict or define Medium-to-long time frames, when seeking to give discretion or responsibility to others; information is sketcy Creative or intuitive people; higher level or more experienced employees
Breaking Through All topics, as appropriate Crisis situations; time is needed to clarify issues; little information is available People who are confident in their flexibility and reaction to change

@Objectiveli brilliant!!!


  1. […] There are different Types of Goals based on the situation. There can be Rational Goals, Direction Planning Goals and Breaking Through Goals.  […]