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  • Writer's pictureDaniel Jimenez

Outcomes Over Output. How Small Businesses Get Things Done.

A question I find myself asking often is “what is the desired outcome for this project.” This happens with clients when they are asking us to build a strategic HR program for them and it happens in my own business as I’m trying to implement strategy.

Obviously if you don’t know the end goal you can’t successfully create a plan to get there, but there is another reason why the question is important.

It helps me focus.

Focus on what we are driving towards overall, not the outputs which get us there. Let me explain.

small business getting things done

The Nature of Small Business

Small businesses have a lot about them that is unique. One of the most is that even though an individual may be hired for one role, they almost certainly will be working in different areas. Everyone in a small business wears a lot of different hats. Anyone not willing to roll up their sleeves and jump in where they are needed, even if that is not their “area”, may not thrive in this environment.

There is so much to do, all the time, that all hands on deck isn’t just a mantra for a few times a year, but a survival strategy for every single day.

Small business leaders not only have to be leaders, but doers. They have to create the strategy and then help execute it. While those in larger orgs may be able to set the vision and step back and let their team implement, small business teams are often too small to implement without some reliance on the leaders help.

And this is where the leader can get stuck in the weeds of outputs over outcomes.

The Difference Between Output and Outcome

The difference may be obvious to you, but in case it isn’t, let’s define each. The output is the tasks, to-do lists, actions that it takes to complete a project. They are the “what you are doing”. Outcomes are the reasons you are doing it and the results of those outputs.

As a small business leader I have a laundry list of things on my desk at any given them. Things I want to implement in the business. They vary from marketing ideas to client focused strategy. The list represents the outcomes, what I’m looking for in results.

The output is the steps my team takes on a daily basis to get us there. One thing I have learned for sure in nearly 10 years of running this business is that when I focus on the outcome and let my team figure out the output, more work gets done.

And because I’ve hired well, not only more work, but better work.

Focusing on Outputs Can Equal Micromanagement

When leaders focus on output they are often focused on what their employees are doing all day. They may have regular check-ins where they ask team members to detail all the steps they are taking. Team members may not have the authority to make decisions on how the work gets done because their leader is dictating outputs.

This often leads to getting to the output much slower than wanted. It also leads to a potential loss of creativity because the only idea or way of doing things considered was the leaders.

Hire good people and then let them do their thing.

How Focusing on Outcomes Looks Different

When leaders focus on outcomes, they set the vision, establish due dates (or mini due dates for certain milestones) and then trust their people to determine what outputs they need to do in order to achieve the desired output.

If you read that and immediately thought that you could never trust your team to do that, you are either unnecessarily micromanaging and need to let go or you are hiring the wrong people.

We have certainly seen leaders learn this lesson this year with the pandemic. The move to 100% remote for most companies has required a lot of managers to spend more time focusing on outcomes rather than output. Yet, we will hear stories of leaders wanting their staff logged into an all day Zoom call so they can be sure the employees are working.

There is no way that anyone, not the leader or the employee, is being as productive as they could be in a situation like that.

Here is what we do in this business. All team members have their day jobs whether that be client or business support. Then I give them projects as they come up. I set the vision for what we want to see accomplished and provide a deadline. I meet individually with each team member once a week to get any updates and see if they need anything from me. I don’t ask them how, when or what they are working on any other day of the week. When the due date arrives I expect to see a completed project. I get out of their way and let them work.

Many of our clients follow this process and their ability to get more done, better than they would have had they tried to manage every little aspect is huge.

I trust my team to tell me if they are struggling and ask questions if they need guidance or clarification. If I worried about whether they were working when I thought they should be or whether they were doing the right things to accomplish the goal, I would make myself crazy, and them. I definitely wouldn’t be as productive as I need to be and if the founder of the business can not focus where she needs, the business will ultimately fail.

As we move into a new year, and an extended period of working remotely for many, it may be the time to shift your focus and dial in on outcomes over output. Stop worrying so much whether everyone is putting their 8 hours in or if they are working when you think they should be. Set the vision, be available to remove roadblocks, clarify or assist and then let them be.

You’ll find yourself less stressed and with more free time to focus on what is really going to grow the business. Isn’t that what all of us founders need?

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