On the Importance of Outcomes

There is never a reason to do anything without first determining the outcome.

This principle shows up in Stephen Covey’s masterwork, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, where he proposes one begins with the end in mind—and an exercise requiring the reader to imagine listening to their friends and family eulogize them at their funeral (something that can help you clarify your values with a perhaps unmatched velocity and efficacy).

Lately, I have been assaulted by people who, even with good intentions, take action without knowing what they desire from having done so. One person sent me an email to ask me for a meeting, suggesting he wanted my feedback on an idea. When I pressed him to ensure this was the outcome he was pursuing, he sent another note sharing his real intentions.

In another recent experience, I listened to several salespeople engaged with their prospective clients. I immediately noticed that none of them shared an agenda with their prospect. Later, I discovered the reason they hadn’t shared an agenda; they did not have one (or if they did, it was unknown to them as it was to their prospect). None of the calls was effective and, as was expected, their prospect did not commit to doing anything, the meeting ending without a next commitment.

The reason you start with outcomes is that knowing what you want allows you to determine better how to achieve it. You cannot hit a target that is unknown to you, and the greater clarity of outcome, the greater the likelihood you achieve it. Knowing the result allows you to design a plan that will produce it.

More still, if you struggle to achieve the outcome, rather than give up on your goal, you can change your approach, adjust your strategy, modify your tactics, and persist in your pursuit.

To put this to work, you need only ask a couple of question. First, you might ask, “What do we want to happen as a result of taking this action?” You might also ask. “Is this the very best way to achieve this outcome, or is there something else we might consider before committing to this course?”

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