Outcomes vs. Activities: Know Your Destination Before You Pack Your Bags

If I told you all, “Meet me in the lobby tomorrow at 9 am – we’re going on a week vacation,” what is the first question everyone would ask?

“OK… where are we going?”

Exactly. “A week vacation” could mean anything. For me, it might mean packing a bathing suit and sunscreen. My idea of a vacation is lounging on a beach in Mexico with a margarita in hand. For someone else, it’s packing up the snowboard and gear to do the black diamond bowls in Vail. And for another, an Alaskan cruise. You get the point.

If you don’t know where you’re going, you don’t know what to pack. You don’t know if you’re flying, so you can’t make flight reservations (or you could, but you might be making a mistake). You don’t know what hotel to book. You don’t know what restaurants to scope out. The activities being performed are not aligned to the destination—whatever that is. Time, energy and effort are being wasted.

Now, think of this in terms of an organization. Everyone is busy performing activities. But, are the activities actually the right ones? People can be very busy and totally headed in the wrong direction. Anyone can look busy by completing tasks.

If we’re not crystal clear about the ultimate outcome, we’re all busy getting ready for the wrong destination. Marketing is going to Spain, but Finance is going to Mexico. Communications is heading to London! All are vacation destinations, but wildly different in terms of what activities are relevant to achieve the outcome.

The guys and gals at CultureRx, have come up with a simple model to aid organizations in thinking in terms of outcomes versus activities when evaluating performance:

Ask these five simple questions:

1. What is our ultimate outcome? This is a higher purpose everyone can get behind. For example:  happy customers.

2. Who is our customer? There is only one. Everyone else is a resource to help us effect the ultimate customer.

3. What are we doing that’s enabling us to achieve the ultimate outcome? This makes the functional team(s) communicate cross-functionally to ensure alignment. We’re all pulling together!

4. What are we doing that’s not serving the ultimate outcome? This is key, i.e., wasting time in unproductive meetings or on reports that are never read.

5. How will we measure that we’ve achieved the ultimate outcome? Often times what we measure is irrelevant, shifts focus away from the ultimate outcome, or sub-optimizes creativity by making the measure more important than the outcome. What is measured can either motivate or discourage people from performing.

Is your organization packing their bags before they know where they’re going? Is there a flurry of long hours, lots of hard work and effort?  Are people showing up early, staying late and shuffling lots of paper?

It’s exhausting and stressful to have an ambiguous destination. Everyone is constantly changing activities when they get the feeling they’re headed in the wrong direction

Clearly define the destination for your employees. Give them the freedom and agility to get there in the way that works best. You’ll be amazed at the results.