September 28, 2005
Lose Weight or Feel Better
Performance begins with focusing on outcomes instead of activities. Surprisingly, however, aside from familiar financial indicators, using outcomes as goals instead of activities is the exception instead of the rule.
Outcome-based goals start with answering this question: How would we know we succeeded?
Go ahead. Try it. Identify something you and others are working toward – whether at work, in your church or other religious organization, even at home.
Sometimes, the answer is quite straightforward. “How would I know I succeeded at losing weight?” By taking some number of pounds off and keeping them off for a period of time.
Other challenges are more difficult. ‘How would I know I succeeded at reducing the stress in my life and feeling better?” “I’ll know I feel better when I feel better” comes up short. It’s circular – and it provides little with which to gauge progress.
Whether you’re at work or church or part of any group facing a significant performance challenge, it helps to know if your challenge falls in the ‘lose weight’ or ‘fell better’ category.
“Lose weight’ challenges have outcomes such as revenues, number of customers served, speed, costs, number and success of new products, elimination of defects or errors and so forth.
“Feel better” challenges are more difficult. Consider, for example, total customer satisfaction, ‘most respected brand’, ‘best place to work’, ‘being the preferred provider’, ‘building new core competencies’ and ‘achieving diversity’. Yes, there are a variety of leading and lagging quantitative indicators that point to success. The number and quality of job candidates is a leading indicator of ‘best place to work’. Retention can measure lagging effects of a ‘best place to work’.
But concurrent, real time outcomes that directly reflect such aspects of ‘best place to work’ as ‘using our values everyday” are more difficult. Setting and achieving outcome-based goals for this kind of ‘feel better’ challenge may demand dropping our bias for easily collected metrics. Instead, it often helps to articulate qualitative goals that, even if lengthy, are verifiable through objective reflection.
“At least 4 out of 5 project teams in our organization that set and achieve performance outcomes will, when debriefed, be able to articulately connect the specific values they used to succeed and why they mattered.”
This is not as easily measured as a ‘lose weight’ kind of goal such as revenues, profits, speed or defects. But, it is just as powerful. Project teams knowing in advance that they will be accountable for this outcome are more likely to take the time to specifically identify and link values that the organization claims to practice to their job at hand. The teams – and, indeed, the rest of the organization – are more likely to see why and how ‘values’ are real – how and why they really make a difference.
Most challenges of any interest contain both ‘lose weight’ and ‘feel better’ parts. Managing performance demands paying attention to each, especially in a world that now requires attention to so many dimensions beyond financial results.