Outcomes Lead to Actions

Start with the results you want, then work out what you need to do to get there.

While mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani used statistics-heavy reports to get feedback on how the city was doing. Every department would enter information about their key activities into a customized “accountability system”. The numbers would be rolled up and soon available in reports at city hall.

Personally, I used to hate reporting weekly metrics. I understood the need for it, and I agreed that they were the right metrics to collect, but there was always something about it that rubbed me the wrong way. It felt like micromanaging.

Then one day, I was reading Giuliani’s Leadership, and he pointed out something that changed how I viewed (and felt about) metrics, how I lead, and how I set goals.

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/donskarpo

[An] emphasis on numbers gives some critics the impression that it is a coldly analytical way to go about achieving a goal. In fact, the opposite is true. By emphasizing results rather than methods, [leaders hold their teams] responsible for improvements on their performance indicators but also give them considerable latitutude to experiment with achieving those improvements.

When you focus on the numbers, you focus on results, not actions. You’re free to discuss the specific outcomes you want to see without getting into the specific activities, policies, and procedures that need to take place to achieve that outcome.

This resonated with me. I would much rather be told what needs done (outcome), not what to do (methods). I’d rather talk about outcomes and leave others free to do it however works best for them.

The higher levels of delegation work on this principle. This is also the seeds of Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind.

When you specify the actions you want someone to take, you own the results. If you ask for A, B, and C, and they do A, B, and C perfectly, you will get exactly what you asked for, even if it isn’t what you wanted. They can’t correct or adjust to get things back on track. (If you haven’t communicated the end you have in mind, they may not even know where the track is.) They can’t come up with a better way to get there, nor can they propose a better alternative outcome. They’re shackled.

Instead, discuss the outcome. Share your vision. Get them excited about it. Turn them loose to be as creative and resourceful as they can be. Let them take ownership of what happens. Amazing things happen when we care about what we‘re doing.

Unsurprisingly, there are two ways to measure your work: what you do, and what you get done. There are also two ways to get goals. Outcome-based goals reflect a specific result. I will lose 15 lbs by Nov 30. Activity-based goals reflect an ongoing action you want to take. I work out five days a week. Outcome-based goals get you there; activity-based goals keep you there. Which you use depends on where you are.

Actions go on your daily task list. They’re clear steps you need to take to achieve an outcome. If an outcome requires multiple actions, create a project for it and break it down into its component actions.

When planning, your focus should start with the outcomes you want, then figure out the actions that will take you there. If you start focusing on the actions without knowing where you’re going, you’re just creating busy work. It’s getting in a taxi and telling the driver to just drive around.

Even if the team you’re leading is just you, stay focused on the outcome. Leave yourself flexible to change the methods to get there. Actions are steps to achieve a goal, not actions for the sake of action. Unless you really enjoy statistics, reports, and paperwork.

Question: How do you stay flexible in your methods while still making progress towards your goals? Share your thoughts in the comments, or on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.

About

Colter writes software and blogs about personal growth and productivity. He lives in Silicon Valley (California) with his wife and children, recently took up golf, and watches mostly British TV shows.

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