“Success is not checking a box. Success is having an impact. If you complete all tasks and nothing ever gets better, that’s not success”  – Christina Wodtke

We are obsessed with outcomes. When setting goals, we define outcomes – these are measurable business results that have an impact. It’s not a list of tasks that we think will get us those results. In a world where time and effort are precious, setting goals should bring the focus that we need to get the results that we want.

We recently worked with a client who had been struggling to launch an app for some time. While the product team had been making progress, management had been getting increasingly frustrated as they wanted to see more traction. Through a process and many conversations, management and the product team agreed on one outcome – get 5 000 downloads by a specific date. This was an outcome that was clear and measurable. More importantly, it would have a measurable impact on the business. This shift from defining tasks to defining an outcome had significant implications on how the team operated and ultimately contributed to the successful launch and traction of the app.

There are plenty of reasons why outcomes, and not tasks, should be defined during goal setting. Here are our top three:

1. Accountability at an outcomes-level drives engagement and efficiency

‘Don’t tell people what to do; tell them what you need accomplished, and you’ll be amazed at the results.’ – General George Patton

Aligning on outcomes when setting goals is the opposite of micromanagement. In decentralised organisations, this is especially key to keeping employees engaged and getting the results that you want.

Micromanagement has many negative connotations for a reason. In a survey performed a few years ago by Accountemps on more than 450 people, 59% stated that they had worked for a micromanager. Of those, 68% said that it had decreased their morale and 55% said that it decreased their productivity.

Instead of management telling the product team what to do in order to get the app launched, they enabled them to make their own decisions about the path to get to the agreed outcome – 5 000 downloads. Management were available for guidance and to assist in removing impediments where necessary. It became a mutually empowering relationship.

2. Defining the outcomes allows for innovation in the process to reach those outcomes

“We say if you’re just using your engineers to code, you’re only getting about half their value. The little secret in product is that engineers are typically the best single source of innovation; yet, they are not even invited to the party in this process.” Marty Cagan

During the goal-setting phase, management and the product team developing the app did not agree on a long list of tasks that needed to be completed. Instead, they aligned on one outcome that would mean success for them. With a clearly defined goal, the product team could choose their own path to get there.

There are cases where there is only one way to achieve an outcome. Yet often, there are a number of different ways, some more efficient, effective or more user-friendly than others. By aligning on the outcomes and not the tasks during goal setting, you are allowing innovation and creativity into the process.

3. While the desired outcome shouldn’t change often, the path to get there may need to change

“In many cases, the outcome you want will continue to elude you — even if you try harder. But it may be possible if you try differently. Can your current choices carry you to your desired future? If not, something has to change. You can’t get there from here. You have to get on a different trajectory.” – James Clear

The world around us is changing faster than ever, and in ways that we could not have predicted. While the outcome that we are aiming for often remains unchanged for at least a quarter, the path that we have chosen to get there may no longer be appropriate. In addition, the right path is often not clear, but we need to get going anyway.

By aligning on the outcomes during goal setting, the team doing the work will be able to pivot when necessary to achieve the defined outcomes. This avoids wasting time working on tasks or activities that they committed to performing but are no longer relevant because they are not contributing to achieving the results they want.

During a launch plan spanning months and covering multiple teams, something is bound to go wrong and not turn out as expected. Because the product team – the team working on the solutions – was empowered to make decisions, they could pivot quickly when they hit a wall, thereby increasing the speed of execution and still meeting the outcomes agreed.

The outcomes you choose when setting goals should drive your tasks, and not the other way around. Once your outcomes are defined, you will still need to think critically about how to best achieve your results.

Give yourself the best chance of having a measurable impact on your business by making sure your focus stays on the right outcomes.

Please get in touch if you would like to chat about your goal-setting process.

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