Most of us don’t want to screw things up. We want to get it right. Most of us, though, get in our own way because we focus on the results, rather than the process.
We stumble into the right thing. We get something right in spite of ourselves. And sometimes, despite completely coming at things the wrong way, we accidentally get what we are looking for.
Chances are, though, we can’t do that more than once. Or more than a few times, or under very specific similar circumstances. For most of us, though, that isn’t enough: we want to be able to be consistent no matter what.
We have a big decision to make. A decision so big, or so complex, that we’re not convinced we have any way of seeing the whole picture – including the consequences of the decision. How can we be sure we’re getting it right? Especially if the decisions have risk, are emotionally fraught, or have to be made without all the relevant information, we need to know we did our best, so that if the outcome ends up not meeting our expectations, we can still be happy with our part.
We want to get it right. The outcome of what we do does matter. But focusing solely on the outcomes or results has five problems:
- In leadership roles, there is often way more that is not in our control than we usually admit. Some of it we can see: “People are people,” we say. Other factors, like changes to regulations (stay-at-home orders, anyone?), weather, and the like, are known externals.
- We tend to think linearly: one thing happens, then the next, then the next, and voila! It’s accomplished. Most decisions aren’t linear, though – even if we experience them that way. They branch and twist and loop. Like a complex musical score with first and second endings, codas, and the like, “linear” is in the eye of the audience, not the performers.
- We humans are often ridiculously bad at estimating complexity. If we actually had to think about all the factors that go into everyday life, we’d probably lose our minds. So we estimate – and often badly. Not all of this is bad: if we didn’t have a certain level of overconfidence, we wouldn’t learn to walk. We wouldn’t try anything new. When we estimate complexity, though, we tend to chunk the problem into what we think we can manage, and underestimate how complicated things really are.
- When setting goals, we often neglect the intermediate steps. We go straight from where we are to where we want to be. We see our trajectory like a thrown ball – smooth, straight, and eventually coming down to earth. In most cases, it’s much more like pinball.
- We often discount the who in any outcomes we desire. Who has to agree to something? Who has to engage? Who has to be brought on board? Who has to transition out? Why people might not want what we want. And so forth. We often dismiss this as people being “overly political” or “not able to see the vision.” That may be true, but that doesn’t make it any less important to work with the politics we are handed and the line of sight people have. Anything else denies reality.
Achieving consistent results, then, requires us to overcome these five problems. It becomes essential then, in order to get it right, to make sure we have clear and workable process, and not just the boldness to chase the results.
- Leadership process: making sure it is clear who is in charge in the situations required to achieve our results.
- Communication process: what we say, to whom we say it, what media we use, and with what frequency.
- Decision process: who gets a say? How do they express that say? How soon do they get involved?
- Defined process: knowing what happens in what order and what depends on what else – often represented visually.
- Discovery and Information process: how do we gather the right information, interpret it, and act upon it? How do we do this before, during, and after the process?
- Designed process: how do we do what we do on purpose, rather than “on the fly”?
There are other factors, but these are the most important for most people and most situations. What parts of your process do you see here? What parts of your process would you add? What is missing in your process?