Intent Blog

Why Focusing on Results is Living in the Past

In any working context, achieving results is very important. After all a company only hires a person because the company needs the person to do something for the company, the company needs the person to achieve an outcome/result. If this is true, then what benefit could there be in insisting that people strive to be process focused in the course of their work and not outcome focused?

One might reasonably think that it is a great virtue to be results focused and perhaps in a certain sense it is. If what one means by results focus is the refusal to make excuses for failures to meet targets, then results focus indeed seems to be a virtue. But what is typically meant by results focus and what really should be avoided is what I describe as “attention on outcome”. Ultimately, if you truly want to do something exceptionally you need to divorce your attention from the outcome you are trying to achieve and instead give attention to the process of actually “doing it”.

But what precisely is wrong with focusing on results? The are a couple of issues.

The first is that focusing on results removes your attention from that which you have immediate control over. What is inside of one’s control is one’s own activity and activity is process, it is the stuff we actually do. When we focus on outcomes our attention is pulled away from what we actually need to be doing right now, that which currently sits in our hands, to considerations of a whole host of other things that do not currently sit in our hands, including what our colleagues are doing, what the weather is like, etc. etc. This makes us less effective at doing what we need to be doing right now in this moment. This is problematic since any result is only ever achieved by people doing something right now in this moment.

The second issue with results focus is that it keeps us stuck in the past. The reason for this is that the results we sit with now will have been produced by things we did and stuff that happened in the past. This however makes us very reactionary.We are not sensitive to the current contexts within which we currently find ourselves since we are looking at the scoreboard, which is the result of stuff that has already happened.

Both these observations do not mean of course that results are not important. In my mind, results do two essential things for us. Firstly, results are essential for informing process. Put simply, in order to know what we need to do, we need to know what we want to achieve.

Secondly, results provide us with feedback. The scoreboard lets you know how well you are doing. Consistent feedback is an essential part of doing something very well and results provide that. Over time a focus a process, with a eye on results for feedback, can produce deep expertise where there is an immediate intuitive understanding of how x action in y context will produce z result. True expertise comes when this is intuitively known and does not need to be figured out logically or intellectually.

So when it comes to results it is important to remember that they are significant, but they have to be kept in their rightful place. The place of results is to inform process. Put simply and rather Stoicly, we must have targets to do things, we must not do things to meet targets. Result is for process, process is not for result.

Assad holds a Masters in Philosophy from the University of the Witwatersrand and is currently a PhD candidate. He is the editor of the Schuitema blog and is a regular facilitator of the company's Care and Growth and Mentoring for Mastery programs. He also has 5 years experience lecturing and tutoring Philosophy at Wits.