The tangible outcomes of progress are easy to measure: sales, profits, market penetration, and yield, as well as number of products, parts, members, programs, etc. Many employees are pretty clear about their goals in relation to these type of results.
But only those on the “production line” can really tie their own productivity to these metrics: Parts per hour, sales per week, hours per production, etc.
Everyone else spends a lot of time talking, thinking, writing, and reading, often with little to show for it. As a matter of fact, the farther they are from the assembly line, the more time spent this way and the less time spent producing tangible value for which customers are willing to pay. Are talking, thinking, writing, and reading important? Of course. Are they efficient? Rarely!
Why? Because very few people are speaking and thinking in the Language of Outcomes. Look around you. Listen in to conversations. Read pretty much any meeting agenda. What will you find? Lots of people discussing, communicating, reporting, reviewing, responding, or writing. I call all of these “Treadmill Verbs™.” You can discuss, communicate, report, review, respond, and write FOREVER! There is no way to know when you are finished. It’s like running on a treadmill. You can always run a little farther. Talk a little longer.
When you speak the Language of Outcomes, you eliminate Treadmill Verbs™ from your vocabulary. You replace them with destination verbs and you ensure that every conversation, email, or document moves you one step closer to a tangible destination.
Now here is the good news! There are only six destinations that add up to real progress. I call these Latham’s Six Outcomes:
- A decision
- A plan
- A problem resolution
- A list needed as input to one of the above
That’s about it! Decisions, plans, and problem resolutions create progress. Furthermore, when you’ve made a decision, you are done. It’s obvious. When you have a plan in hand, you are done. When you’ve resolved a problem, you are done. These aren’t treadmills. These goals are obvious.
Progress is also discernible if you identify important inputs to one of these three. For example, establishing a list of objectives to guide a particular decision represents tangible progress. Making a list of resources can be a vital step in creating a plan. Identifying a list of possible causes is essential to problem-solving. In all of these examples, when you’ve made your list, you are done! That’s clear progress!
If you aren’t clear about the lists that serve as inputs to decision making, planning, and problem-solving, you are operating without a clear process and without tangible intermediate outcomes within those processes. And you are back on the treadmill.
Back to Latham’s Six Outcomes. Sometimes the outcome is nothing more than confirmation. “This is what I am trying to accomplish, what I’ve done so far, and what I’m doing next. Sound right?” The only valid outcomes are:
- Would you like to talk about … (one of the aspects of your decision, plan, or problem resolution)? Notice that this third response also leads to Yes or No and not an immediate discussion. (Think about all the times a lack of clarity has transformed a simple request for confirmation into a lengthy unplanned discussion.)
The last of Latham’s Six Outcomes is authorization. “May we proceed?” is equally simple and deserves a Yes, No, or I-need-to-understand-more-about-your … (decision, plan, or problem resolution).
If you want results, you need to speak the Language of Outcomes. You can’t discuss, communicate, review, and report. Decide what decisions, plans, and problem resolutions you need and ask for them! Decide if you need confirmation or authorization and ask for it! If you aren’t working towards one of these six outcomes, where are you going? Get off the treadmill and start speaking the Language of Outcomes!
There is simply no substitute for knowing what you are trying to accomplish. That’s clarity and clarity generates speed and confidence.