Author J. K. Rowling reportedly said that she wrote the last chapter of the last Harry Potter book first, around the time when she initially conceptualised the famous saga back in 1990, while riding a train from Manchester to London.
To a lot of people this might be counter-intuitive, they start from where they are and work outwards. So why would you start with the end in mind?
This typically means that you care about what you want to do and not how you are going to do it. Outcome focus therefore means being clear about what you want to achieve and not getting bogged down in how you are going to achieve it. This gives more flexibility for innovation, trying different approaches and not getting side tracked by failure.
A working towards approach
Another way of looking at this is that represents a ‘working towards’ strategy – in other words I am motivated to work towards something I want. Conversely if your strategy is ‘working away from’ you are motivated to get away from something you don’t want.
Clearly, they both have implications for the longer term, but one is more helpful in terms of sense of direction (working towards). Strong emotions such as anger irritation or fear might be great motivators to get you out of your current situation. However without some sort of goal you take any road out irrespective if where you end up is not helpful to you in the longer term – where you end up may not be where you want to end up. Whilst emotion may be a great short term motivator it is hard to sustain change that is solely based on this as your main driver. Its also important to understand that ‘away’ is not a direction.
How many times have you spoken to someone who has changed roles purely to get away from a situation, only to admit that where they ended up was even worse. Largely, they will often admit, because they didn’t consider where they should jump… anywhere would do.
Another way of looking at this – if your motivation is fuelled by ‘working away from’, you are going to spend an awful lot of your waking hours focusing on things or situations that you don’t like… doesn’t sound a great place to be does it?
Far better to focus on how you solve the problem rather than spending all your thinking time making the problem seem worse.
Outcomes in organisations
We all know that the vast majority of organisations are metrics driven. They manage unit costs, productivity and often have a process focus. However few ask themselves the question – does what we measure actually have an impact on what we are trying to achieve? Does what we measure really have a business impact? For example, you delivered your product faster, but was it the right product?
An old colleague of mine was the Head of Service Delivery in a large UK Bank. His team use to regularly report on help-desk KPI’s and had trend lines and graphs demonstrating just how good they were getting at answering the phone whilst at the same time were reporting a significant upward trend it terms of numbers of problem calls. He would regularly question – wouldn’t the investment in the help desk be better spent solving problems so that people didn’t have to ring in the first place? One of his favourite quotes was “putting faster engines on the plane simply means you hit the mountain quicker!”.
Outcome-focused teams value results over everything else. They are strongly opposed to micromanagement and give leaders lots of flexibility to achieve results in their own way. If you or your organisation aren’t getting the right results, do you need to change what you focus on?
What this means
Having an outcome focus meant that Rowling always knew where she was headed. It is said that she wrote the final chapter of the last Harry Potter book first, so she always knew how she had to bring all of the threads together to end the story. Consequently she could entertain various plot twists and turns without losing her sense of direction. Apparently she would regularly read the ending to remind her of how the story had to unfold. Unintentionally a good example of how having written goals does help some people (but that is a story for another day).
Sometimes you do have to work away from something, but this should only be a temporary solution. Otherwise if you don’t know where you are headed “any road will do”. Its quite a prescient question to think about at the moment given the impact of Covid-19 on the world. When it is all over, where are we headed? There are other significant issues to ponder both individually and as a society. At least having a focus means you can challenge what you are doing from the perspective of:
How is this helping me to get to where I really want to go?
If it doesn’t help, why are you even contemplating doing it? You may still end up doing it, at least you will have a rationale such as it is developing a skill I know will be important to me in the future.
If you don’t have an outcome focus, where are you going? Are you working towards something or are you simply working away from things in life that you don’t like? As ever you have a choice. Choose wisely…
If you want to #changesomething, or need some either reflecting on (or even changing) your desired outcomes, why not give us a call?