The Problem with Focusing on Results
It’s tempting to focus on results. After all, we tend to get recognized and rewarded based on the results we produce. It also makes things simpler.
As a business manager, you set a sales target. As a sports coach, you set out to win the championship. As a corporate employee, the result might be to get promoted, or as a player, to score 20 points a game.
While these results are highly desired, it can be counterproductive or downright bad for you when you focus primarily on the result.
When you focus too much on the result
One of my colleagues, let’s call him Don, was in exactly that position.
When the head of his division declared an aspirational target of quadrupling sales to $100 million, Don not only embraced it, he made it his personal mission to ensure that he and his team achieved their $20 million portion of the goal.
Never mind that they had just had their best year yet at $5 million, or that the division head’s number was an aspirational target to shoot for rather than a “make or break” command, Don drew up a plan with his executive team and they were off to the races. He seemed like a man obsessed.
Partway through, they reached $10 million, a new high-water mark. But instead of celebrating, Don drove his team even harder. Everyone redoubled their efforts and redoubled them again.
That’s when the turnover started to happen in his team. People went from excited to exhausted.
Don’s obsession with reaching the $20 million target made it the only positive result. Anything less would be failure. And in this obsession with the result, Don had gone beyond the point of diminishing returns.
Not only has the team not achieved this goal yet, Don’s reputation suffered in the meantime.
What to focus on instead
Don wasn’t wrong to care about the result. In fact, you need to keep an eye on results in order to achieve them.
But rather than putting all of the emphasis on the end result, which can often set you up for failure, focus on the process.
Identify the steps that will put you and your team in the best position to achieve the goal and do everything that’s in your control to get there.
Focusing on the process would have saved Don’s reputation and given the team something energizing to work on. Things like making a certain number of calls each week, identifying the product improvements their clients wanted, and expanding the universe of potential clients they were calling on. These are all things in their control and, therefore, achievable as wins along the way.
The sales results are the byproduct of the process and efforts of the team.
Formula for Success
This concept of focusing on the process is a large part of the success formula for my husband’s championship basketball team.
What people see on the surface level are the stellar results: his team has won the championship two years in a row, and he’s been named Coach of the Year both years.
But when you go behind the scenes, it’s clear that winning the championship – or even any particular game – is not the sole focus.
Of course they want to win every game but their focus is on the process and putting in the work day in and day out to prepare to win – going through practices, taking care of their physical condition, building camaraderie as a team.
There’s no talk around the team about next year’s championship. In fact, when the team plays badly yet still ends up winning a game, my husband is upset and eager to improve. To paraphrase him: you can play badly and still end up winning on the scoreboard. And by the same token, you can do everything right and still lose the game.
What’s the one thing you can commit to so the end result doesn’t distract your focus and halt your progress?
Leave a comment and let me know.
This morning, I happened to listen to Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life, and he talked about the Law of Sowing and Reaping. Your message today also underscores the importance of sowing in career and business – reaping and winning is NOT entirely within our control, but focusing on our own attitudes, behaviors and efforts is. I especially like your husband’s insightful observation that “you can play badly and still end up winning on the scoreboard. And by the same token, you can do everything right and still lose the game.”. In our results-obsessed world, it’s so important to keep this perspective in mind – working every day with faith in the long-term harvest of things while taking joy in the moment-to-moment act of planting seeds.
Thank you so much for sharing these insights, David. I like the analogy to sowing vs reaping, and your idea of the “joy of planting seeds”. And yes, my husband has some useful sayings!