Outcomes are the bottom line for tangible measurable success.
When a team understands what a successful outcome looks like, they have a higher probability of actually reaching the goal.
For the purposes of this discussion, we’ll use three words that are not interchangeable: Goal, Objective, and Outcome. In the most generic terms, please consider these definitions. Shout out to HRBartender.
A Goal is broad and sweeping.
An Objective has a specific result.
An Outcome is the measurable result.
During the prioritization process, we probably looked at what is possible and dreamed for a few moments creating blue sky ambitions leading to Goals. And then we got down to the nuts and bolts of what we must do to head toward those Goals. Those priorities are likely Objectives. We see Objectives all the time: Organizational Objectives, Personal Development Objectives, Team Objectives.
Outcomes are the measurable end result.
If we want to get to “success” faster, then we need to have a clear understanding of how “success” is measured. Entire management philosophies are built around 'managing by objectives.' Done thoughtfully, flat out, it works.
When we talk about SMART Goals, we cover all the bases for aligning individuals and teams: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.
In my experience, we often either completely ignore “Measure” or go overboard and create too many measures. There is a beauty to building metrics and dashboards. It’s a personal passion of mine.
Creating a relevant and relatable Outcome is critical to a team focusing on the "success" part of the equation. Let's say we need to catch 10-flies. Three proposals are presented.
Catching 10-flies has a high probability success with all three of these solutions: spiderweb, frog, and chopsticks. Each solution has challenges. If we restated our Outcome as, "capture 10-living flies", chances are, none of these solutions are ideal.
Building out measures that define the true level of success early in the process helps the team identify progress against those measures and their contributions toward that progress.
They eliminate unnecessary activities that do not affect the Outcome.
They promote healthy debate when new information comes to light that affects the Outcome or has not been included in the Outcome
They motivate a large population of team members… a lot of people like to “win”
You might think, ‘duh, if you don’t have metrics to show progress, then of course you’ll get lost.’ You would be shocked at how many organizations create a giant list of Objectives without meaningful measurable Outcomes.
Creating a vision for meaningful Outcomes is tricky. It must reflect the reality of the situation, illuminating progress over time and irrefutable results. Additionally those Outcomes must be tied to a mission that is relevant and inspirational, otherwise they are just a pile of statistics with red, yellow, green symbols.
If you are serious about accelerating the success of your organization, take a hard look not only at the measures designed to represent Outcomes, but also the messaging linking individual and team contribution to those Outcomes.
When an objective is set, we can measure our progress toward that Outcome.
Let’s use a common personal life example:
Goal: I want to wear my favorite outfit without bursting the seams for a special event.
Objective: I will exercise and eat right for a month.
Outcome: I will lose a half inch off key body parts.
Fitting comfortably into our clothes is a tangible Goal. The reward is more tangible than ‘losing five pounds.’ Losing five pounds is terrific and measurable, but it may not necessarily get you into your clothes. Instead of focusing on the scale, focus on an Outcome that will get you to that goal - reducing girth. It may not be about weight. Maybe you’ll gain five pounds because you are building lean muscle. You are more likely to fit into your clothes if you focus on girth.
This is the conversation we need to have when we build Outcomes.
Is it measurable?
Does it actually tie to the intention of the Goal?
Do we know that it is a critical lever to success?
In a project team environment, I posit an example for your consideration:
There is nothing “wrong” with the initial Goal, Objective and Outcomes. It is very tactical, explicit, and time bound. With a strong team, they will focus on replace the obsolete system and implement new technologies with excellent system performance, data integrity, and care representative training.
This is good.
But it is not intrinsically valuable to the company and the team members.
Reworking the Goal-Objective-Outcome suite to focus on experiences where Outcomes truly support those experiences has two important benefits: 1) the resulting metrics are a direct reflection of the Goal's intentions, 2) solutions are not assumed - there is flexibility and creativity in the "How".
There is a time and a place for tactical performance metrics, usually in operations reviews. We need to review, monitor, and finesse them always. But as it relates to accelerating success, we want to create space for creative thinking, collaboration, pride of ownership, and passion.
We humans are not robots. We like to know that our hard work will make a lasting difference in the lives of our customers, employees and shareholders. Our target Outcomes can help bring our passions out of the wings and into the spotlight.