We are obsessed with outcomes. There’s rarely a client engagement we have where the outcomes discussion doesn’t come up in some shape or form. And we’ve truly seen the benefits and experienced the value.
The challenge that we and our clients have with an outcomes obsession is that it’s a hypothesis. It’s the best guess about what we believe is going to happen or the outcome we want. In the pursuit of strategy, we need to set up these outcomes to stretch ourselves – to take chances, to pioneer, to explore the unknowns.
So we can focus on outcomes, but at some stage, we need to forget about the outcomes, and simply get on with it. We need to disassociate with the outcomes.
When is this point?
Outcomes vs. Tasks
We sometimes use the map, milestones and marbles analogy. The map is your strategy – it’s what you believe the landscape looks like, and a rough estimate of the direction of travel you need to take. The milestones are your OKRs – what does success look like over the shorter term? The further out you look, the harder it is to define the outcomes. And then the marbles – the marbles are the rocks and obstacles on the path in front of you. You can’t ignore these. If you ignore them, you might still be progressing, but you’ll be stumbling a whole lot.
When the road in front of you is rocky – when you’re met with obstacles and impediments in pursuit of your OKRs – there are two things you need to do.
Firstly, ensure you’re on the right path. A rocky road doesn’t mean you’re going in the wrong direction; it just means there haven’t been a lot of people on the path, you might be the pioneer. In pursuit of truly ambitious goals, you will undoubtedly get friction – from people in your organisation who are doubtful about your pursuits. Or from the market not responding in the way you expected it to, or not fast enough. Do as much work as you can to ensure you’re on the right path. Apply MVP thinking (deliver value in short sprints) to get to the next milestone where you can gather real-world feedback. You’ll never be 100% certain, but you can be confident.
Secondly, once you’re confident the path you’re on is right, focus on the next step you need to take. Just get over the next rock. David Allen (Getting Things Done) asks his clients to see themselves sitting down at their desk – what do you do next? Do you make a phonecall? Write a document? Send an email? Write that task down. Use a verb, with a clear output. We find that writing it down this way avoids double work – you only want to apply your cognitive capacity to it once. Think about it now and write it down, so that when you sit down later, you don’t have to think about it again – you can just do it.
Dan Carter, on The High Performance Podcast, talks about times when he was under immense pressure and the habits he formed to force himself to focus on the next task. During those times, he stops thinking about the outcome or result and purely lives in “the now”. (The podcast has a huge amount of lessons on goal setting and pursuing purpose – basically OKRs for professional sports!)
Outcomes are necessary, and they enable a different level of execution in a business. That’s why we love OKRs. But sometimes you need to disassociate from the outcome to focus on the next step you need to take.
It’s a privilege to have pressure in your life. If you experience pressure, you are on the verge of doing something unique and special.
Insights are often unveiled in casual conversations we have with clients, colleagues or friends – a point in time where both parties realise this is important stuff, and most people are struggling with it. These insights don’t wait for formal engagements – they happen over coffees and on couches. Our ‘couch coffees’ is a continuing series of posts where we’ll publish some of these insights – simple, short and sharp. They might be second nature to some; for others, they might be closer to epiphanies. For most, we hope they’re simply nudges in the right direction.
If you have questions, we’re always keen for coffee.
Get in touch so that we can brainstorm a few solutions together!