Over the past few weeks, I’ve been exposed to a number of situations where companies - or the managers that represent them - appear to be confusing activity with progress.
Let me share a few examples:
- Marketing organisations being measured on the number of inbound leads or website hits, without regard for their quality
- Sales people being set targets for the number of meetings per week, without regard for their outcomes
- Marketing collateral and sales tools designed without regard for their purpose in advancing the buying process
I’m sure, without having to think too hard about it, that you could come up with more examples.
Start With the End in Mind
The common thread that seems to run through all these examples is a focus on quantity without any real regard for quality, and a focus on “doing something” rather than on the outcomes you are seeking to achieve. Sometimes the person driving the measurement simply doesn’t know, or can’t articulate, what the desired outcome is or how the activity will facilitate it, and that’s a big problem.
Stephen Covey, in the “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, exhorts us to start with the end in mind - and that’s what’s missing from many of these troublesome, activity-related targets. Focusing on activity levels becomes a big cop-out - it allows people to hide behind doing the stuff they have been asked to do, and being measured on, rather than thinking smartly about what they are really trying to achieve and adjusting their behaviour accordingly.
Focus on Outcomes
Fixing this problem demands a focus on outcomes, rather than activities. It encourages the people who work for you to be thoughtful and selective. It requires that you understand - and can articulate to others - what you are trying to achieve, and it highlights the importance of keeping the end goal of any activity in mind from the start.
In fact, I’d suggest that for the most part, companies would do better replacing raw activity based measures or targets with intelligent metrics that measure progress towards valuable and clearly declared goals. I realise that this feels like harder work - and it probably is, albeit marginally - but there’s an abundance of research to suggest that it will stimulate your people to make smarter and more valuable decisions.
Putting the Theory into Practice
So how might we apply a focus on outcomes to deal with some of the situations I highlighted at the start of this article?
- Why not focus and measure marketing on the value their activities add to the sales pipeline - by, for example, tracking the resulting qualified opportunities that are accepted by sales?
- Why not focus and measure sales people on the number of times their actions cause the prospect to advance their buying process in a verifiable way?
- Why not measure the success of sales tools and collateral in a similar way - on the number of times they prove instrumental to advancing the buying process?
Focusing on outcomes brings a number of advantages: it’s impossible to implement if you haven’t identified the end goal of the activity (and if you can’t, why are you doing it?), it causes you to look for tangible and verifiable evidence of progress, it encourages smarter decision making, and it highlights actions that serve no valuable purpose.
Eliminating Wasted Effort
It’s the latter benefit that often strikes me. To put this into context, recent research (and my own experience) suggests that at least 80% of the collateral produced by the average B2B marketing department serves no verifiable purpose in advancing the prospect’s buying process. Where’s the value in that?
It seems clear that focusing on outcomes enables organisations to eliminate significant amounts of wasted, purposeless activity and effort. It provides context for the tasks that employees are being asked to perform, and a framework that enables them to make smarter decisions - and add greater value - in their day-to-day work.
Are you Confusing Activity with Progress?
Let’s face it - it’s easy to do. It’s a simple habit to fall into. But if I can make a suggestion, take a look at the metrics that you are currently using to measure your people and departments with. Are the links to a desirable outcome clear in every case?
And, if not, how much more might you and they be able to achieve if they were?