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When the how is just as important as the what: Avoiding the pitfalls of outcome-based planning

Outcomes-based planning is the new buzzword in business right now thanks to agile (often in name only) leadership. With outcomes-based planning you focus on the reason why and not the how (the process). So called ‘results-driven-plan, not plan-driven-results’. This puts the audience at the heart of the desired outcome (more customer focussed) but what if the process is just as important as the outcome? What if the process IS the outcome?

In everyday life, we are told to focus on the journey, not the destination. Whether that’s about our health, career development or self improvement. For example, if two people would like to lose 5kg and one is on a calorie restrictive diet for a fixed period of time whilst the other is on a more sustained and balanced nutritional plan, both may achieve the same outcome: 5kg of weight loss. Which one of them will be able to continue with normal life and be the most fun to hang around with? Who is more likely to continue to be healthy over the longer term? The answer is obvious - the one who focused on the weight loss journey rather than the outcome (in this case the numbers on the scale).

It follows then that this should also apply in business. Two teams could want to achieve the same outcome “provide global access to a product”: whilst one team employs aggressive top down management of the team (or micromanagement), the other employs a bottom up approach. The former team may very well achieve the desired outcome but at the expense of retention and team health and wellbeing.

If the outcome is about building relationships and perceptions, then the how IS the what. How we conduct ourselves with authenticity and the choices we make are what leads to the outcome. For example, if the desired outcome is related to building trust with a certain type of customer, throwing money and resources at the problem versus taking time to listen to the customer and slowly building lasting and long-term connections is far more likely to earn their trust.

This is not to say ‘let’s throw outcomes-based planning in the bin’, far from it, but perhaps we need to carefully consider certain cases where the how is of equal importance to the what. Building in bite-sized and realistic short- to mid-term outcomes along the journey that help to set the tone and approach could help to avoid putting too much focus on the far off destination but instead enjoying the ride.

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