From activity to outcome: changing our everyday focus

communication impact Apr 21, 2015

One day, do a social experiment in your work place. When you attend your meetings, listen to the conversation with a different filter. Listen for whether the conversation is dominated by descriptions of activities or outcomes. Activities sound like tasks, actions, plans. Outcomes sound like achieved realities for others. 

Here is an example:

Activity conversation

Person A: “We need to make sure the segmentation research is scoped properly and that the brief has been sent out to our partner.”

Person B: “I haven’t seen the brief, can you take me through what is in it?”

Person A: “Sure, we are going to conduct segmentation research, focussing on demographic and attitudinal groupings. We are then going to use this data to personalise offers in the market.”


Outcome conversation

Person A: “We need help building authentic relationships with our customers based on real insight into their lives. We need to ensure our partner is aligned with this outcome for this research."

Person B: “How are you going to brief the partner to make sure the research is designed according to that outcome?”

Person A: “We will share with them our customer vision and the type of relationship we want to cultivate with them. We want to be able to craft research that is linked with attaining this outcome in the most effective and efficient way, and we are going to work with them to help define what that might be.”


Why is this important?

There are two very important factors to notice about the differences between these conversations.

When we talk about activities, most of the time we are actually talking about a how to implement a solution to a problem, without first exploring what other solutions might be possible and more appropriate. This is a natural tendency for decision making in large organisation, and most of the time we don’t even realise we are doing it. This pattern often starts with “ok so what are we going to do about it?” or “Don’t come to me unless you have a couple of options!”.

When we focus on outcomes, we are openminded about the approach because we are more strongly connected to the impact we want to achieve. From this outcome focus we can be collaborative in our stance to work out what the best approach might be to get there. In this way, we tend not to get bogged down in the details of the activities which takes us further and further away from the outcome we were striving for. This pattern often starts with “What are we trying to achieve?” and can be explored and tested with “Why is that important?”.


Being purposefully outcome focused.

Focussing on the outcome and the impact we are striving for also reduces the likelihood of unproductive debate. Getting alignment about the outcome first gets everyone aligned in the same direction. Next exploring possible pathways to get to the common destination. And finally once the approach is agreed we can discuss the activities of how, whom and when.

In a world that is changing and morphing rapidly, our activities will change and morph as rapidly and technology and markets do. Focusing on activities means we are tethering ourselves to this rapid churn and losing focus on why we are doing the things in the first place. The most salient aspects we can focus on are the outcomes we seek to achieve for others, and in that, we will find a steady truth where things become clear and focused, and the noise fades away.

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