Have you ever thought about what truly separates great organizations from mediocre organizations – or top talent from mediocre talent? If you were to pose this question to the general population, you would, no doubt, receive a myriad of responses. Based on my transformational experiences and anecdotal observations, the single most powerful differentiator that characterizes high performing organizations, teams and people is their innate ability to maintain a razor sharp focus on outcomes. Unlike many short-sighted organizations and people who inadvertently get caught up in predominantly activity-based thinking (aka “Look at how many things I checked off my list today! This is great!”), results-driven people continuously ask themselves the burning “so what” question:
“I completed Activities X, Y and Z today. So what? What tangible value did I deliver today AND how does that value directly align with key performance indicators or strategic goals attainment?”
High performers are never satisfied with just checking activities off of the list because they never allow themselves to lose sight of the bigger picture. Specifically, high performers recognize that:
- One can complete a slew of activities, e.g., busy work, but never attain a meaningful end goal. Case in point ̶ an organization can provide exceptional professional development training, but unless: 1) the training is directly tied to key outcomes (aka business impact); and 2) the trainee can provide evidence that the training received was not only successfully applied but additionally delivered undisputed value, the act of sending people to training becomes virtually meaningless plus a time and funding investment waster. Training completion in and of itself does not equate to a more capable and competent workforce. Another example ̶ leading or participating in meetings that lack clear agendas, targeted objectives plus post meeting follow-through. These kind of meetings result in a lot of talking but few, if any, accomplishments. A third example ̶ continually firefighting but failing to resolve chronic issues/problems. A fourth example ̶ becoming obsessed with email to a degree where most of the day is spent cleaning up one’s inbox, with inboxes notoriously being filled to the brim with low or non priority work.
- It takes time and effort to identify the “right” activities to pursue ̶ essential activities that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, will advance the organization’s agenda. That said, even critical activities are merely results-enablers – they are a means to an end verses the actual end itself. A key to identifying the right activities is the ability to connect-the-dots between each activity and the desired result ̶ if Activity A is pursued and pursued successfully, what outcome should we expect and how can the outcome be measured so that we know with certainty that our efforts paid off?
- The manner in which crucial activities are performed or completed, aka the quality, has a direct bearing on whether or not the end results will be positive or negative. This aspect may seem a bit tricky to manage, but again the key is being able to identify the anticipated outcome plus measure whether or not the outcome was attained. Let’s face it – we know that two people can approach the same assignment in two different ways. Person 1’s approach may be “I’ll do the bare minimum, complete the assignment and check off the box” whereas Person 2’s approach may be “I’ll tackle the assignment in a way so as to gain the greatest benefit for the organization, my team and my customers.” Establishing key metrics allows you to measure quality verses quantity. As a side note, when you’re establishing key metrics, be certain that collectively, your measurements are “balanced” – you don’t want your metrics to drive behaviors that unintentionally result in undesired outcomes. A high-level example of this would be to balance financial and customer service metrics otherwise you may inadvertently create a situation where your organization is so focused on achieving their financial goals that customer service suffers.
Unfortunately the reality is that many people erroneously focus on activities and with that, they get swallowed up in busy verses outcome-driven work. It therefore becomes the executive leadership team’s responsibility to take deliberate steps to create a great, high performing culture where setting the tone and direction, connecting-the-dots, reinforcing the message, deploying the tools necessary plus spotlighting the results-enablers and key measures becomes the standard operating procedure for those organizations who truly wish to achieve exceptional outcomes-based results!