Manage By Outcomes

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How do you know most of your work matters? There are probably a few things that matter to produce the outcomes important to an organization. Most work is simply effort and cost and does not produce meaningful results. You can see this with the ridiculing of office politics and people doing busy work in cartoons and TV shows.

If you are a manager, getting results starts with a system that focuses on outcomes. You have to be clear about what the key metrics that matter are. Then build your system to output those results.

It’s not easy because getting people doing what you need takes pig-headed determination. Furthermore, creating clarity is hard without clear strategy and vision. This often takes dialogue to get clear on what really matters to your business. Your attention and day-to-day is pulled by a ton of distractions and things that don’t matter.

If you’re not moving the needle lately, then think about how all the work that you and your team do contributes to the outcomes you want.

Maybe you’re working on outdated priorities. Or you have not refreshed your near term and long-term goals based on what you know today.

Anyone can work and be busy. But, getting the right things done requires taking pause and managing to the right priorities.

What outcomes are important to you now? Is your work set up to support those outcomes?

Help, I’m Never Getting to the Important Work

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I understand. It can be really comforting to do what is urgent and stay in the groove of knocking out tasks. In a given day of work, there’s always the tasks that have to get done to keep pipelines moving, make customers happy and ensure our teams are motivated and productive.

However, that nagging feeling, for those business owners and executives that need to move the needle, will be there. Being busy can keep you from giving attention and focus on what really can 10x your business. You feel busy. You are getting things done. The problem is that you may not be getting the right things done.

It’s out of reach because distractions and busy work give you that dopamine hit and attachment to the work that simply has to get done.

If months have gone by, then consider, like someone who realizes that a personal trainer helps them get fit, to get clear and get the important work done. Get above the noise of your business and see what matters and does not matter.

The reality is that most things do not matter and a very few things matter immensely to help you grow your business. And if you are working on the low-level, have-to-get-done items, at the expense of the most essential opportunities, you are not being effective. You are allowing urgent demands to numb you into feeling busy and productive at the cost of big growth.

You do have to be productive so you don’t bottleneck your commitments to your customers. That’s worth making an established, reliable habit in your work.

However, if that is all you do – get busy work done – then you will struggle to grow your business. You are only refining and making what already exists optimized and at some point, it’s a diminishing return.

Are you getting the right things done consistently?

This is More Productive

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“It is more productive to convert an opportunity into results than to solve a problem – Which only restores the equilibrium of yesterday.” ~ Peter Drucker

I am a sucker for solving problems. And I have to take heed to the wisdom in this quote. Which one makes more impact? A new opportunity or an old problem?

If my goal is to contribute, be useful and make an impact, then making space in my life for opportunities to present themselves and be acted upon is the priority. Busywork, noise, outdated commitments – these have to be pruned out decisively. Otherwise, like weeds, they clutter the landscape and opportunity for new growth.

Creating value for others comes down to solving the right problems. And the right problems tend to be coupled with timeliness.

Perhaps you have a lot of balls in the air as well. Simply cutting out what doesn’t make sense creates space for the new.

Maybe you’re measuring success by how busy you are rather than how much free time you have. The latter can be an indicator of your capacity for taking on new opportunities.

I have found that there are plenty of opportunities that cross one’s path. But working on old problems allows no space for those to be recognized, entertained and acted upon.

Be Clear About Who Your Customer Is

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In case it doesn’t sink in, remember, you are one of 330M people in the United States. Go to the airport, a concert or any large gathering to get a small glimpse of how minute you are in a sea of people.

The strategy to try and work with everyone is a sure fire way of failure in the marketplace. There’s simply too much competition and it’s hard to understand your offering if you are generalized. It’s the quote,

‘I can’t give you a sure-fire formula for success, but I can give you a formula for failure: try to please everybody all the time.‘  ~ Herbert Bayard Swope

You have to be ok with not making everyone happy or trying to chase every deal. You have to be ok with people that don’t get you.

In sales speak, there is the wisdom of picking a niche or targeting your customer. Both point to being focused, clear and exclusionary. You have to have clear positioning.

Ironically, such specificity is a form of abundance. You are thinking how to be the best for the people you want to serve by solving their specific problem you or your company are designed for.

You are not diluting yourself and trying to be all things to all people.

I am about strategy. Many people do not value strategy. But, people that need clarity, business growth or getting rid of pain in their business know what I offer. I try to stay in my lane and not overreach to areas I don’t have passion, expertise or bandwidth for. I have a network of friends I try to share generously with instead in those cases.

So, maybe it would be a powerful time if you could think about, “Things I don’t do.” It could give you conviction around the things you do well and want to specialize in.

Then be clear with your marketing, networking and outreach to make sure that is understood by those that can do business with you or know people that want to do business with you.

Who do you only want to work with and what do you only want to offer?

How Do You Make it More Expensive?

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When we think about a problem, we like to solve it. Our brains are suckers for the open loop and we want to close it. If you are asking how to make something cheaper, you get solutions and thoughts on cost-cutting or quality cutting. And those that are super efficient at making things cheap have extreme scale to amortize such costs.

If you ask how to make something more expensive, you have to think about value. How do you make something worth more? How do you become worth more?

There are plenty of people that crave better. They can easily get cheap merchandise. But, they can’t always get that exquisite taste, feeling of quality or identity to name a few reasons why we pay more for the things we love.

What if you took the challenge to look at your prices? What would it take to make the value worth double? What would that look like? Can you add a thoughtful gift? What if you followed up with custom service at the right timing? The extra effort or concierge service could easily increase the value perception if you package your offering with some creativity.

Increase the value before anyone even asks. Sometimes it’s cost. Other times it’s care. Then, if you get traction that is repeatable, you can see if the value warrants an increase in price.

In a crowded marketplace with so many options for cheaper options, it would be hard to compete in categories that have people thinking about the low-cost option.

Become more expensive. It’s a fantastic way to differentiate and push yourself to be desired more. It’s not free. But it’s worth it.

Credibility

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Does it work?

Was it designed in and for the real world?

It’s critical to take whatever idea you have and see if it stands up to the rigor and texture of people – customers, partners, critics, etc – in the real world. That’s honest design.

Credibility comes from proof that what you conceived can actually work repeatedly in the world.

I like to move to action and engagement quickly. And here’s what I find works:

  • Always be engaging the world and gathering ideas
  • Write those ideas down. I keep a list.
  • Think fast and hard about a next step – reaching out to a friend, posting a thought, starting a project
  • Watch the reaction. And if there’s positive results, build momentum with another action. If not, kill your darlings.
  • Push

Clarity comes through engagement. It’s partly why I don’t think professional writers who are in these magazine content farms are necessarily helpful if they haven’t actually done things like build businesses, drive revenue or worked with teams. They are researching and writing.

Where’s the rejection? How do they know where the land mines are and tune for the chaos?

Look for the credibility with people that move to action and push until results happen. Otherwise, you can have a lot of misinformation from feel good content when what you really need are results.

How to Be a Resource Maven

Today, we have too much information and technology, not too little. And information and tools are cheap and accessible.

You can create value for others by curating information and sharing it specifically and personally. Sure, people share on social media, but it gets drowned out and is hard to consider in the scrolling sea of noise.

Here is what I like to do to provide value to the people I seek to help:

1. Save Helpful Content Using the Google Keep Chrome Extension

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I am a heavy user of Google Keep. It’s part of your Gmail or G Suite setup. It’s searchable and can easily hold lists, notes, links and research in a virtual sticky pad environment. It’s also now in your sidebar of Gmail to search as well.

The Google Keep Chrome Extension installs on your Google Chrome browser. When you are reading anything on a website, simply click the extension to save the link so you have it to recall anytime. You can also add notes on the fly and label those notes for categorizing. It’s fast, convenient and you are able to keep moving through information quickly.

When you want to find old information, simply search for what you are looking for. You can do this in your browser or your mobile app. All your knowledge, research and gathering ready to be found.

When you are seeking to be helpful to a prospect, client or friend, review content in your Google Keep to share. Be sure to share personally. If by email, add your insight, opinion or advice.

2. Read Blogs on Feedly

Feedly became the go to RSS feed reader after Google shut theirs down. It’s convenient in your web browser and mobile app. I like Seth Godin’s exhortation to Read more blogs and what the value is for you personally.

Blogs are deliberate, thoughtful and keep you current on your interests in your industry and in the world. Save articles. Share them with people you care to connect with and help. It’s easy to do with the social sharing or email controls in Feedly.

Organize your Feedly by topics and carve out a few minutes each day to gain insights and read powerful articles. You can add my blog from my RSS feed.

3. Keep a List of Article Ideas

When I am in conversations, engaging the world or reading, new article ideas pop up all the time. I keep a list on my Gmail Tasks called “Articles” and add to it regularly. It keeps me attentive to what is going on around me. I am a writer and I love finding insights and creating content around those insights.

I like Anne Lamott’s thoughts on being a writer, thus an observer in the world:

If you are a writer, or want to be a writer, this is how you spend your days – listening, observing, storing things away, making your isolation pay off. You take home all you’ve taken in, all that you’ve overheard, and you turn it into gold.

You notice more by keeping thoughts in a convenient, accessible place. Letting your eyes observe and your mind wander and make connections happen when you are out in the world. Having a system where you keep ideas for content is powerful for keeping a pipeline of worthy content going. You can write an article or an email to someone elaborating on your thoughts.

Being Valuable to Others

There are a few ways to create value, but having resources that you can share in personal ways does require a process that is easy to manage. I keep my resources continually building and try to match those in timely ways for my clients and friends. I try to add a bit more than might be reasonable to each interaction with people.

You can share resources in one-to-one emails, newsletters, blog articles and on social. In a crowded world, it is valuable to bring solutions, insights and focus to people’s problems. Be that resource and you become valuable. You become that person people know help them and not waste their time and attention.

Be a Ruthless Pruner

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We are always working on yesterday’s commitments. And when we have committed, it’s so easy to make those decisions sacred. Such reverence for our past commitments builds up continual clutter, drag and mediocrity in our work and lives. Without knowing it, we are managing many subpar projects, possessions and relationships at the cost of what could be the best. We don’t have room to invite, entertain or adopt the best.

Pruning cuts out what is less than optimal so the main part of what matters can grow stronger. It’s a habit that has to be practiced daily in order to make room for the best.

If you find yourself in a slump, prune. You will gain energy from getting lighter.

If you need new creative direction, you don’t simply get inspired with more creativity. I don’t think there’s even a lack of creativity. In fact, creativity shows up when you make more time or free up resources.

Ruthlessly prune projects that simply don’t have a payoff anymore. Your brain wants to fill that time and space with new options. The brain can’t help it.

Nature hates a vacuum and when you prune, you create a vacuum to be filled.

In the process of pruning, you might also discover the things that really matter. Double up on those commitments, projects and relationships. The pruning revealed what is gold and truly matters. Frittering away your life, energy and resources on things that don’t matter or create high value simply spreads you thin at the cost of what is best.

It’s a hyper-competitive world with millions of people. You likely have a few things that you can go big on and add real value to carve out a place for yourself or stand out. How can you get there managing, struggling and emotionally attaching yourself to commitments that don’t have any potential of big payoffs?

What’s one thing that doesn’t matter right now you can ruthlessly prune? 

Be a Lateral Thinker

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When we are buried in the details of our work, it’s hard to look around and see connections to worlds outside ourselves. We can be talking to the same people within our crowd, read the same blogs, and look at the world through a myopic lens.

Some of the big ideas of today such as taking software platforms, connectivity, mobile and cars can produce inventions like Lyft.

A company like Stripe took their expertise in coding and made connections into financial tech and banking. It was daunting, but rewarding as they brought their lateral thinking to the problem of making online payments easier.

If you straddle different worlds, know the culture and nuances of different segments, you can powerfully introduce solutions that connect the dots that might escape a specialist’s trained mind. Lateral thinking is value add in this increasingly complex and polarized world. There’s extreme efficiency and speed occurring on one end of the spectrum. On the other end, there’s high complexity which requires creative, consultative solutions.

Bringing outside, fresh perspectives can change the way a problem is solved.  If you are a lateral thinker, you can open up the conversation to new possibilities.

You can notice and exercise a few approaches in your work and interactions:

  • Be sure to play in different worlds deeply rather than invest fully into one area of work day in and day out.
  • Meet new and interesting people that think about their fields intensely. Ask great questions and learn.
  • Keep great notes and think of how new perspectives create new solutions for your problems. Test them out and see what comes of trying different approaches. Then share them to help others.

If you can connect the dots you become valuable to others that are conventional in their practice. Your contribution increases.

Think about your domains you invest in. How can they merge or collide in a way to create even more value?

The world is getting more efficient on the whole. But, the creativity and lateral thinking opportunity is there to be applied to multiply those efficiencies.

Collecting and Testing Mental Models

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Principles prevail in a world of chaos. Much of life is indeed chaos. I think the importance of collecting and testing your mental models – how you problem solve and approach the world – is critical to drive success.

The 80/20 rule can help you focus on what has the best payoffs.

Eliminating drain people can help you be free from drama and the downside of dysfunctional relationships.

The law of diminishing returns can keep you from wasting energy and time where marginal returns are the leftover.

These are tested tools that create results when practiced intensely and regularly.

Have a place to collect your mental models. Test them in the course of doing business. When they work, that positive reinforcement along with learning the nuances of each principle, can embed themselves as habits in your psyche and routines.

I like to write down thought processes and mental models I learn from books and people. I like to write blog articles of my learnings. I like to share what works to help others. These practices get me results.

Everyone operates from mental models. May are not intentional and miss out on magnifying the effects of focused outcome thinking. Some mental models have downside. Total hedonism, for example, has plenty of upside, but can also ruin ambition.

Perhaps your results are elusive because some of the things you know are not regularly practiced. Or if you are scattered and not getting the outcomes you want, a few focused practices could be the game changer.

Keep a notebook or use Keep to start tracking the mental models you learn and apply. It’s a simple practice that can quickly yield desirable outcomes.