Don’t confuse effort with results

Don't confuse effort with results - person review financial information

In response to my recent post, Two Primary Principles, I was asked about the tagline on my blog, “Don’t confuse effort with results”, and whether this is a principle I’ve described before. I realized that I hadn’t done that so I wanted to take this opportunity to do so.

I first heard this saying in 2001 from an executive I was working for who had the decency and courage to pull me aside one afternoon and share that although my work ethic and effort was not in question, the results, or lack of them, were in question. To be completely transparent, I was speechless when he explained this principle to me. I realized in that moment that I was viewing my work efforts as a measure of my success vs. weighing the results they were producing. I imagine this is a difficult conversation to have with anyone as a manager but it is certainly more difficult and challenging when you are having it with someone who has a big title and is expected to deliver quite a lot back to the business.

I’ve done a fair amount of work in refining this principle in my own life and in the lives of those I’ve worked with since. Similar to the other principles I’ve discussed previously, below I offer a more detailed explanation of this principle and what it means. I will pause here to say that this principle has been the basis of many difficult discussions for me since 2001 with other co-workers and employees. It is clear that a large percentage of people in the workforce, especially in management and executive roles, struggle to know the difference between effort and results.

Don’t confuse effort with results

  • Be sure you understand your role and the responsibilities associated with it

This might sound obvious but many people need to regularly assess what is expected of them in their role especially as companies are shifting their focus more frequently and are expecting senior managers to know enough to step up and take on more

  • Seek out your manager and discuss the results expected from you

This goes beyond quarterly and annual MBO goal setting
It involves knowing how you will achieve the results, what the impediments and obstacles might be and knowing how to answer “what great looks like” as it relates to the varying results you must deliver

  • Maintain a constant sense of urgency

If you focus on working through all your tasks so you can “tick the box” and feel productive, you risk slowly losing the sense of urgency required to honestly evaluate your results and radically change direction if your to-do list is not working

  • Remember that no one is indispensable

This one stings because some of us can’t imagine being sacked or demoted but in this economy we can no longer avoid this or deny the possibility that we might not be suited for the role we believe we are so perfect for
Perspective is king and viewing our role as a privilege vs. entitlement will keep us balanced

  • Desire feedback

Talk with peers often to ascertain their views about your work performance and results
Understand whether your work is producing value for the company, it’s employees, it’s customers, it’s community

  • Stay informed

Have an interest in knowing what other companies expect from people with your title and role, what they are paid, what incentives drive them and how they are measured. This type of knowledge will help you shape your focus and perhaps provide creative ideas for your employer to make your role work better for you and them

I would wrap this up by also stating that this principle can and should be something positive that motivates behavior in the right way. There will be times when it isn’t so positive and may cause us to make some very tough decisions with people that work for us but if we apply it properly to ourselves and to our teams it will allow us to establish a culture that is vibrant and results-driven.