Episode 9: Process vs Outcome – What’s Your Focus?

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Too often, leaders and organizations focus on the process instead of the outcome. As a leader, that can demotivate our employees, and as an organization, it can actually prevent us from reaching our goals. Listen to learn more. 

In this episode you’ll hear:

  • What’s the one thing that leaders and organizations can get wrong?
  • What’s the difference between micromanaging and focusing on the process vs outcome?
  • The danger of following the checklist in general
  • The harmful effects of processes and why it makes you inflexible
  • The danger of focusing on the process vs the outcome
  • When do processes and checklists become detrimental?

Resources Mentioned

Full Episode Transcript


What’s the one thing that leaders and organizations can get wrong?

One thing that sometimes messes with leaders; leaders can get wrong and organizations can get wrong – is the concept of process vs outcome. You see sometimes when it comes to what we’re trying to accomplish, we can start focusing on the process vs the outcome. See, what’s most important is the outcome.

But sometimes we get stuck on that process part. And it can happen with leaders when it comes to when they’re directing their team or people they’re leading and they have the outcome they want, but they feel like they have to control how to get there.

They feel like they have to control the way they do it. And that really kind of becomes micromanaging because they have the outcome. But then it becomes, I want you to do it this way and this way and this way.

And when you do that, that hurts, of course, motivation, and that removes the sense of autonomy. It makes people less likely to try hard and take the initiative. It makes people more likely just to do the minimum when that happens, when you micromanage, and when you feel like you have to control every aspect.

Because what’s most important is not the process. It’s not the way it’s done. What’s most important is the outcome.

As a leader, you should be setting the outcome and letting the process the way they do. It kind of varies depending on them and works best for them. If you set a high standard, a high goal for people to accomplish, and then you release them to do it, they can often do amazing things when you feel like you have to control every detail.

Again, you’re micromanaging, but it also shows a lack of trust in them, which in itself demotivates.


What’s the difference between micromanaging and focusing on the process vs outcome?

Now, of course, sometimes there are standards or things you have to have like for safety or maybe legal reasons or just when we do a blog. This is kind of how certain aspects are that we want in our blogs.

Those are pieces you may have, but there’s a difference between micromanaging and focusing so much on a process instead of an outcome. So when it comes to how you lead, make sure you have, of course, set good expectations. Make sure you have that general culture of trust.

Make sure people feel safe speaking up or saying, I’m not sure what to do or I’ve made a mistake, and so on. That’s kind of part of the culture you should be having anyway but when you’re doing it, you want to focus on the outcome.

You want what the results are going to be. Focus on that, set the expectations, what’s needed, what’s to be seen, and release your people to do that, to get it done.

Depending on the person, you may have to offer more guidance or suggestions at times, but in general, you focus on the outcome and not the process.

Similarly, leaders, and the organizations they run, can start focusing on the process vs outcome they really want. The focus of what they do, the focus of their attention, and what they try to make sure happens is not the outcome, but the process of doing it.


The danger of following the checklist in general

Captain Marquet, in his book, Turned the Ship Around, said part of the submarines and the ships had inspections and they would inspect to make sure they were ready.

Now, the ultimate goal that he talked about was being war ready, ready to defend the United States, ready to be ready at the moment’s notice, to defend our country, to be war ready.

That was the goal but what often happened with these inspections is the focus was making sure we complete those inspections and passed. The focus wasn’t, “let’s make sure we’re as ready as we can be.” It was to pass the inspections and so the focus went off from what the goal is supposed to be, to the process, to the checklist to make sure we met every part of the checklist.

The danger with that in general is that following the checklist can sometimes keep us from our goal. It can hurt us. It doesn’t make us as far as we could be.

For example, for him, Captain McKay, his goal was, of course, to be war ready, but to be excellent in everything they do. And he said, by being excellent in everything we do, then we’re going to pass the inspections but the goal wasn’t the inspections itself or that wasn’t their focus, I should say.

But this happens often in organizations, education, and businesses. All these rules and checklists are created and bureaucracy. We’ve talked about bureaucracy in the past and how damaging it can be.

So we create these rules, we create these checklists often for a good reason like these are created for good reasons with good intention, because sometimes, like the idea is if we do X, Y, and Z, then we’ll get P (whatever letter we’re going for), we’ll get the result we want if we do this process.

But the problem is sometimes that process, that checklist becomes the focus and it becomes more about hitting that checklist than reaching our outcome of what we really want.

The thing is when our focus is the process, it makes us very inflexible because our outcome is X, that’s what we want. But if we focus on the process, we’re not experimenting, we’re not trying new things, and we’re not open to new ideas necessarily because our focus is just making sure we meet every check mark on that checklist.


The harmful effects of processes and why it makes you inflexible

It’s like sometimes setting personal goals. You may set a personal goal for exercise, but if you put a whole lot of your process into it, this is exactly how I’m going to get in shape as x, y, z, I’m going to do exactly this.

I’m going to run this, I’m going to do these weights, blah, blah, blah. And that’s, in a sense, in your goal, your process, that makes you very inflexible. And if you don’t just meet one aspect of it, then in a sense you kind of failed your goal, even though you can keep going.

The idea that you felt can be harmful depending on how you look at it, but it also makes you inflexible. Well, maybe instead of running, maybe I can do the bike, maybe I can do this. Sometimes the process can be good, but if we’re not careful and we put the wrong focus on it, then it can also be harmful.

Let’s say you’re doing marketing and maybe you have a checklist for blogs or a checklist for the marketing material you put out and it’s good. You want certain things like, “Hey, we have our logo and it’s this blah, blah, blah, blah, whatever.” Good. But if we’re not careful, we’ll make it too extensive and we make it so much the focus of everything having to be this, then that checklist becomes the focus and not the result of the marketing piece we put out.

Because as we’ll see in some other examples I mention, sometimes we can get the results by doing other things, innovating, trying new things, and experimenting but if our focus is the process and that checklist, then according to that checklist, we fail because we didn’t hit X, Y, and Z on that checklist. Sometimes. we can get to where we focus on that so much more than if we’re actually hitting the outcome.


Let’s say we’re trying to meet a certain goal with customer service, a 95% success rate. People are happy with us and so on, whatever it may be, 95%. And we say it’s going to be through this process. We have a checklist of everything we have to do to get to 95%. So what happens?

We’re not getting the results we want. It’s not happening the way we want it to. If we’re focusing on the process, we’re just banging harder and harder on the process versus adjusting versus looking at the best way.

Sometimes when it comes to the process, when it comes to policy, we just start saying, “Oh, that’s policy, that’s the way it is.” That’s a not-smart mentality because policy should always be questioned because the goal is the outcome.

The goal is to keep trying and finding the best way to reach the outcome. But if we just default to policy and use that as an excuse or just say that’s the way it is without examining things or trying to make things better, we’re just hurting ourselves.

We’ve got to be constantly looking at the processes, looking at the things, what’s working, what’s not, and how it can be better.


The danger of focusing on the process vs the outcome

So far we’ve talked about, as a leader on your team, process vs outcome, and focusing on the outcome. We talked about how businesses can get so focused on the checklists and the process that we lose sight of the outcome.

And it’s about meeting that process vs outcome and we can become inflexible. So we’re stuck and just keep banging harder on that process, trying to make it work versus trying new things or being flexible to reach the goal.

The goal in the sense becomes the process vs outcome that we really want and that becomes our focus. Again, that’s really dangerous but it can get worse because what can happen is people, businesses, and organizations can then hire for the process vs outcome where we need this outcome and this is the process we want to use, and we hire people to make sure that it’s implemented.

Now, when it comes to the boats and the inspections with Captain Marquet and the submarine, really the inspector’s job is to make sure people meet the inspections. Right? That’s their job.

Do they meet the inspection? And in theory, if they meet the inspection, they’re more ready. But that’s not really their focus like if someone does something different but war ready, they still failed the inspection possibly.

I don’t know enough about the inspection to say exactly how that works but you kind of gets what I’m trying to say. If we’re focusing so much on, do they meet that checklist versus whether are they really the ultimate goal?

A better example would be some school districts. School districts may have behavior management programs that they implement district-wide. Every school is supposed to implement this program with the goal of getting better behavior. So good goal.


We’ll try this program. Great! But with these programs, often there’s a checklist you have to do X, Y, and Z. You’re supposed to have these posters on your wall. You’re supposed to have this where the students can do this. You’re supposed to do whatever it is. That’s part of what the program is.

So the district may hire people to implement that program to make sure that process is done. The danger about that is their focus is not on the kids better behaved.

For example, if a classroom is not following that completely, but they have a different method or just the way they relate with the students, and they’re getting good outcomes, but they don’t have the poster on the wall.

That person’s focus is not, “Hey, they’re getting great behavior doing this. Maybe we need to implement some more of that. Hey, let’s see what we can learn from that.” No, their focus is, oh, you don’t have the poster on the wall.

You’re kind of failing your program because you’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing. That may seem silly, but that really happens. People focus more on whether are you meeting that checklist versus whether are you getting the behavior that you want.

What can we learn from that? How can we do better in other places? If that’s working that way, maybe it won’t work, or maybe it will, that’s something we can look at. But that’s often not the focus. The focus is you’re not meeting the checklist and the process, and the focus becomes that process and program versus the ultimate goal, which is better student behavior.

So I hope you get the idea on that, that sometimes not only do we start focusing on the process and become so inflexible but even more, we can start hiring people for that process versus the actual outcome we’re trying to get.


When do processes and checklists become detrimental?

Again, the process in itself is not bad. Having checklists isn’t bad. I want my pilot of the airplane to have a checklist. I want the person doing surgery on me to have a checklist and make sure they’re doing everything they’re supposed to do. Processes are not bad, but they can be. When that becomes our focus.

It can be when it makes it so much bureaucracy that it’s about the process, about the steps we’re doing and how we’re doing it versus whether are we reaching our outcome. Then, if we’re so focused on the process, we become inflexible and aren’t trying new things to meet the outcome because the main focus is, are we doing this process or not?


So I hope this podcast helps you with something to think about as a leader. Are you micromanaging your team? Are you focused on the outcome or are you focused on the process? And if your team’s having trouble with the process, are you making sure you’re setting good expectations? Are they trained? Do they have the resources they need?

Do you need to sit down with them and help them think through the way they want to come through it if they need that? Make sure we’re focused more on the outcome versus making sure they do it the way we want them to do it.

Secondly, as an organization, what is your overall focus? Are you focused on the outcome? Are you focused on the process? Yes, in theory, the process is supposed to help you get to the outcome but it doesn’t always work that way. And again, it makes us inflexible.

So what is your focus? Are you worried more about, whether is somebody doing X, Y and Z? Or are you more focused on are they getting that result? How are they doing that? What can we learn? And so on.

Are you experimenting with the process? How can we make it better? Or do you just say things are just policy and just leave it without question? Something to think about. I hope this helps.

Thank you so much for listening to this episode of No More Bad Leaders. If this episode meant something to you, I would be honored if you share it with someone who would benefit from it. You can find more episodes here.

If you have any comments, questions, or inquiries, feel free to contact me.

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