All teams have objectives or outcomes, which team members usually believe in, aspire to and want to deliver. However, not all teams have the same relationship with their objectives and outcomes.
Most leaders and teams seem to believe that if their objectives are well articulated and clear enough they have a greater chance of succeeding.
That is not necessarily true. Yes, it makes a difference that an objective or outcome is well articulated. However, I have seen many teams with well-articulated outcomes achieve mediocre traction against their outcomes. In contrast, I have seen teams with mediocre level outcomes achieve extraordinary traction and results against their outcomes.
Most leaders and teams seem to believe that when they articulate a set of objectives, inherent to them is a genuine relationship of ownership, responsibility and accountability toward them, by those who created them.
When teams set their objectives – at the end of the process they don’t typically have a conversation that goes like this: “So, is everyone in this room promising to fulfill these objectives?!” I venture to say that people would take offense to such a conversation, and what it implies or questions about their commitment.
However, if this conversation did take place I am sure most people would push back and say: “We can’t promise to fulfill the objectives… we can only promise to do our best… or carry out the actions we believe would/should fulfill our objectives…”
I get this valid push back. There are no guarantees and no one can promise to fulfill any type of future. However, there is a nuance here that makes all the difference. It is between having a relationship with your objectives of “doing our best…” or “carrying out the actions…” and “explicitly promising to deliver the outcome itself…”
The word “explicitly” is key. Leaders and teams seem to have a paradigm that objectives come with a built-in feature of a relationship of ownership and commitment toward them.
I know it sounds ludicrous when you read it on paper. However, if you judge by leaders’ reaction to lack of ownership and commitment you would realize that they expect it. They think that ownership and commitment are implied.
But, unfortunately, as we all know, nothing could be further from the truth. Ownership and commitment are never implied. If you don’t explicitly discuss, declare and create them, they do not exist.
To add insult to injury – there is no point in having outcomes at all if you are not going to promise them. Without an explicit promise, outcomes are like a sales boat sitting in the middle of the ocean without the necessary wind to drive them to their destination.
In order to promise an outcome, it has to be clear and measurable. Sometimes teams justify their lack of rigorous thinking with the excuse that certain areas simply can’t be measured. This is never true. You can measure anything that is important to you. You could use existing, new, objective or subjective metrics to do so. However, as long as you and your team members are aligned behind, and own the measurable outcomes you have chosen you are in good shape.
Metrics should never be an afterthought. A powerful outcome doesn’t have metrics associated with it… it actually is a promise of the metric. There are no outcomes independent of metric and there is no metric independent of outcomes.
Outcomes without metrics are general, ambiguous and at best they determine direction. Metrics alone merely explain how you intend to measure your outcomes, but they don’t stake any actual outcome, therefore they are interesting but useless.
In addition, metrics are past looking.
I worked with a team that felt strongly that in order to manage their services effectively it was important for them to track certain metrics. So they picked a few that were important and every quarter they would report out to their boss how they were faring against their metric. Some quarters their results were slightly up and other times it was slightly down. Tracking their metrics allowed them to compare the last quarter with past quarters and explain away why things were going up or down. After a few quarters of repeating this process, they also added to their presentation their prediction of how the next quarter should be, based on past performance.
This is a classic example. If you explain the past for long enough and you don’t promise a different future instead, your explained past will become your future outcome, by default.
When you promise an outcome, you are creating the future and staking yourself to it. The word and concept of promising make your objectives very personal. It doesn’t mean that you will always succeed. There are no guarantees.
However, would you rather have your team members coming to work each day with a relationship to their objectives as a set of outcomes or, as their outcomes, which they are promising to cause?
I think the answer is clear!