The Fallacy of a Focus on Results

By on September 27, 2018
Fallacy of a Focus on Results

The absurdity of trying to drive results by focusing solely on results should be obvious to all of us. Unhappily, it isn’t.

For example, let’s imagine trying to lose weight by only looking at what we weigh on a scale twice a day. Wouldn’t work. What we’d need to focus on is our eating processes and the ways in which they impact our weight.

For example, let’s imagine that we’re a baseball player trying the improve our batting average and the only feedback we get from the batting coach is, “try harder.” Wouldn’t work. What we’d need from the batting coach is feedback on how to improve our baseball hitting process.

Despite the obvious weakness of a focus on results, all too often I hear comments like these:

“We need results and we need them quickly.”

“Our CEO is really focused on results.”

“We’re not too interested in ‘soft’ skills; we’re interested in ‘hard’ skills.”

When I hear these kinds of remarks, thoughts like this pop into my head:

“I understand that unless high quality products that meet customer expectations are shipped on time (results) that the company won’t stay in business.”

“That said, results don’t happen because a company is focused on them. Good results are driven by good work processes.”

Given the fact that work processes drive results, why is it that I don’t often hear these comments?

“Our CEO is really focused on improving our work processes.”

“We need to really change the way our employees think about work.”

“We need to talk with our line workers and get their ideas on how to improve our work processes.”

Leadership teams focus on results rather than work processes and isolate themselves from the places where their products are made, or services delivered, for a whole variety of reasons. Here are some of them.

  • It’s easier to focus on production numbers and to use various forms of “work harder” as the sole method of improving them…rather than “work smarter” and focusing on improving the work processes that drive results.
  • Too many leaders view themselves as the “captains on the helm,” guiding their good ships by focusing on computer screens that give them all the information they need to have in order to “steer the ship in the right direction.”
  • It’s hard for leaders to shake off the belief that there are clear distinctions between their primary functions and the primary functions of workers on the line. They believe that leaders think, and workers work.
  • Too many leaders fear what they imagine will happen if they start treating line workers like responsible adults whose creativity, knowledge, and in-depth understanding of work processes are their organization’s most valuable resources.

Here are key questions a leadership team needs to answer in assessing their need to know more about work processes as well as worker attitudes toward the work they do.

  • Are we getting the level of continuous improvement needed to be a winner in our marketplace?
  • Do we have an in-depth understanding of the work processes that drive the results we’re trying to achieve?
  • Can we describe the major impediments to higher levels of continuous improvement?
  • Are we aware of the degree to which our employees are engaged in the work they do?
  • When line workers refer to our company, do they use the term “they” or the term “we”?
  • Do our line workers believe that we highly respect their intelligence, knowledge, and creativity?
  • Do we believe that our line workers are the best source in our company of ideas about how to improve work processes?
  • Do we trust our line workers enough to share problems with them? To share financial data? Do we believe that trust is the glue that allows an organization to operate, as Warren G. Bennis, pioneer in the field of leadership studies, has taught us?

If a leadership team’s answers to most of these questions are “no” or “not enough,” it’s obviously time to take action. And what does a leadership team need to do? That’s the question I’ll be addressing in my next article.

And by the way, in my ongoing effort to lose weight, I’ll stay focused on life style changes rather than the numbers on my scale.

About George Friesen

George Friesen serves as Business Practice Leader - Lean Manufacturing for the Workforce Solutions Group of St. Louis Community College. He has led the College's Lean business practice area since 2000. Prior to joining the College, George worked for Maritz Performance Improvement Company. Over the past 35 years, he has served a wide variety of Fortune 500 companies, specializing during the past eleven years in Lean Manufacturing, focusing especially on the 5S System, Lean leadership and thinking processes, Value Stream Mapping, and Lean team building. George is a graduate of Washington University (AB), Webster University (MA), and United States Air Force Flight Training.

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