Outcomes vs Outputs: Are You Getting Results or Just Executing Your Plans?

“Quality without results is pointless. Results without quality is boring.” – Johan Cruyff, Dutch professional football player and coach

Over the last 20 years plus working with CEO and executive teams, one constant theme is Outcomes vs Outputs.

When people set their goals in planning sessions, they often say, “I did all the work and I completed the plan.”

Yes, but you didn’t get the results or outcomes.

As companies grow and end up with more management and staff, there often seems to be a gradual degradation of the focus outcomes, and more on processes, and implementing plans, projects and programs.

This is lethally dangerous.

At the end of the day, hockey is about goals, football is about touchdowns – and business is about results.

But for very logical reasons, people get caught up in an activity or a process focus, versus an outcome orientation:

  • As costs get bigger, it’s harder to measure the results of big projects
  • Human beings tend to shy away from accountability, if they can
  • There’s often a lack of the kind of disciplined thinking that it takes to quantify the result you expect.

A Matter of Perspective

If we look at this from the perspective of a CEO or business leader, you can either have your team focused on doing the work, or on the outcomes. If they degrade to focus on checking boxes, they could check the wrong box, and do the wrong work. In outcome-oriented companies, many of the projects simply wouldn’t get approved.

The challenge for most leaders is to makes sure there is an outcome focus on everything.

Then people can look for more creative or inexpensive ways to get the job done. This requires immense discipline.

The Questions

One of the CEOs I work with uses this question to help: What must we do to win this quarter?

MUST. Not could, should or would like to, but must – and what is the financial impact on the business?

Even if it’s simple, rough math, quantifying the impact of a project is key.

An Example

You want to implement an new CRM project in your company (after all, everyone’s doing it, so it must be a good thing, right?) – but unless you can prove that it will reduce your total cost of marketing, decrease your lead costs, or increase your quality of leads – something! – it’s just another project to entertain the people on your team.

Most companies will implement the CRM, the vendor will give them an award for something (great marketing strategy by the software company) and call it a success. But the lead cost doesn’t move. Of course, it doesn’t. It doesn’t happen just because you have new software.

Establishing a target you have to hit that forces the creativity, learning and optimization to get you there – like the cost per lead is going to go from $75 to $50 – is just the beginning. You also need mechanisms to track progress, and to hold people to it – otherwise, you’ll have wonderful new capability, and marketing costs just went from 5% of sales to 6%.

I’m a big believer in things like CRM and know that the value comes not in the implementation, but in the optimization the following year.

It takes probably 20, 30, 50 or maybe 100 adjustments and revisions, to actually get the outcome you want. You have to work it, and manage it, and spend hours sweating over how to leverage it. Then and only then can you get the lead costs down. That’s the hard work, and most companies don’t do it.

It doesn’t matter the project. On the operation side it’s often easier, but for other support services, it’s important not to allow people to degrade into a process, project or doing-the-work orientation.

The discipline is to have an outcome orientation on everything.

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