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Daily Leadership Thought #171 – Focus on Results Not Activities

July 12, 2011

Free Woman in Black Blazer Using Macbook Stock Photo

In business, it is all about results.

I am fortunate to be able to spend time with a group of peers I respect, and I am often struck by how much of the conversation focused on their activities.  There were multiple action tracking forms and other types of reporting documents. Each person around the table seemed to take pride in how hard they were working.  While all of this is certainly well and good, what was lacking was any common theme or strategy driving these activities.  Everyone was doing their own thing and that was okay with them because they are all savvy businesspeople and know what needs to be done.  I call this the “spaghetti” school of management.  In my house growing up, the way to know if the spaghetti was ready was to keep throwing a few bits at the wall until they stuck and then you knew the pasta was “al dente” or done.  Over the years, I have noticed many businesses do the same thing; they focus on increasing the volume of overall activities and hope some of them will work.

Business and nonprofit leaders need to think differently about what constitutes success.  Besides the quality of their people, what differentiates most high performing companies is their vision, focus, and discipline.  Culturally, there is a palpable sense that everyone is striving to be on the same page in terms of priorities and the important next steps.  These organizations understand it is also the synergy of activities separating them from the pack, not just the activities themselves.  Instead of simply working harder than their competitors, they also work smarter than them.

A red flag I often notice when I begin working with a client is how they start their workday.  Struggling executives and managers often sit down and go straight to email followed by an endless series of tactical and reactive activities.  At the end of the day, they wonder where the time went and why things that are more important weren’t done.  More accomplished leaders take the time to plan their day before launching into their activities.  They work from priority lists that are driven by strategic objectives and have a clear understanding of their role in making these things happen.  Intuitively, they know that “less is more” in terms of their own impact.  Moreover, they appreciate that if they are unfocused and overwhelmed with activity, their employees will behave in a similar fashion perpetuating a cycle that is good for no one.

Executives, managers, and employees should not be like a group of cockroaches who scramble when the light goes on each day.  The truth is that it takes much more effort to get work done this way. In the long term, the results end up being spotty or mediocre at best.  This lack of coordination expends too much valuable energy. It creates a sense of growing organizational fatigue, which inevitably hinders employee morale and performance.  I come from a school of thought that believes most employees want to be successful.   They just need a clear sense of direction on how to get there.  They also need to understand how they fit within the overall framework of work responsibility.

To create a more results driven culture, I encourage leaders to do the following:

  • Operate from a clear and concise view of what success is and isn’t for the organization
  • Carefully think through your role in making these things happen
  • Ensure your team is coordinating effectively to identify the best routes to achieve the strategic business objectives
  • Make sure there are systems and processes that ensure all employees are on the same page regarding the strategic objectives
  • Actively communicate to ensure that everyone can see how their specific role contributes to the big picture
  • Plan your own daily work activities to be aligned with these objectives and work the plan diligently
  • Avoid daily activity distractions that take you off course and expend unnecessary energy
  • Keep in regular communication with your team and subordinates
  • Continually strive to eliminate non-essential activities and maximize operational synergies
  • Regularly acknowledge and reward departments and individuals who stay focused and achieve their objectives

My wish for you is that you end your days with a sense of inevitable accomplishment rather than hoping that eventually some of the “spaghetti might stick” if you just keep throwing it at the wall.  Results should drive activities, not the other way around.