results and outcomes show progress towards a mission

June 13, 2007

This Found+Read article, Outcomes vs. Activity: Why everything a founder does must be a means to a specific end, has keen insights how results (really should) matter to any organization [ht: Terry Storch] ::

Some people choose wisely and focus on high-impact activities that truly move the needle. Others, however, work the same number of hours without making clear progress toward measurable results. Focusing on what really matters is a difficult-to-achieve skill in our “attention deficit disorder” world. Successful leaders–and, therefore, successful founders–invest the time to clearly identify, prioritize, and communicate key goals. They then measure their success by real progress against those desired outcomes. By focusing on the end results, creative leaders can identify the shortcuts and often achieve those goals with less work.

As we talk about outcomes vs. activity, it is important to nail down the semantics. Outcomes, in this context, means a certain, generally measurable, end result — and one that matters a great deal. Activities, however, are a set of tactics that are used to achieve that outcome. Productivity might then be defined as the value of a certain outcome divided by the cost of the activities used to achieve it — simply put, the return on your investment (ROI).

If this is a bit confusing, that is good. Understanding this confusion is the first step to seeing how easily things can go terribly awry. Because many of us founders are so accomplishment driven, we tend to look at both activities and outcomes as accomplishments. While they both could be achievements, results should almost always be valued well ahead of tactics. A long day at the office often creates the illusion that we are creating value and driving the ball downfield. Ticking off tasks on your to-do list fills you with a sense of accomplishments but did you achieve the end goal? Many of the activities create some benefit, but is it making a tangible difference for the organization? Is it the most effective use of your time? Often, the answer is no and, unfortunately, few people are aware of it. …

Defending yourself against the myopia of task saturation requires a bit of planning. Defining key outcomes is the first step to getting back on the road to productivity and effectiveness. Are the results that we hope to achieve measurable and meaningful? Can we assign dates to deliveries? What are the key measures of success and an appropriate sampling rate? Successful practitioners focus on the goal despite the forest of tasks, distractions, and nice-to-do activities.

Once founders begin to assess their team against key measures, they are often surprised to see how quickly they can create a results-driven culture. In that kind of enlightened organization, it’s about ownership, trust, accountability — and not about hours worked.

Even for a non-profit organization like a church or parachurch ministry, results and outcomes are important, though somewhat more difficult to measure than sales in a for-profit business world. What have you found helpful to measure results and outcomes for your church’s ministry programs, so that you can see progress that you’re making in fulfilling your mission?

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