Are you confounded by outcomes? Have you ever felt that output is kind-of important as well? There is a close link between the processes we follow and our ability to get to our final destination.
The technique, not the end goal
In Free Solo, rock climber Alex Honnold tells us that, whilst climbing the 3,000 ft face of Yosemite’s El Capitan, he was focussed on technique - moving one foot, one arm at a time - not on the outcome. In Atomic Habits, James Clear makes a compelling argument that rather than running a marathon, what the subject really wants is to become a runner. You can run one marathon and then go back to sitting on the couch eating potato chips. Runners are people who get up early, go for a run, take their health seriously, and live longer healthier lives. In the 2008 Beijing Olympics, US swimmer Michael Phelps swam, won gold, and beat his own world record, all whilst unable to see because his goggles had fallen off.
Photo by Talahria Jensen on Unsplash
Process gets us to our goal
What Alex Honnold and Michael Phelps’ achievements and James Clear’s arguments make clear is the instrumental role that the process plays in helping people, teams, and organizations achieve their goals.
Alex is able to scale rock faces because he trusts his ability to move one limb at a time. Michael wins gold medals blind because he trusts his ability to swim one stroke at a time. James Clear’s readers are coached to achieve their diverse goals by making small 1% changes.
Conditions for success
Nothing exists without something causing it and everything is conditional - everything that happens does so because conditions allow it to. Simply willing something to happen will not make it happen. Simply setting and believing in an end goal will not make it happen. But having an understanding of the conditions that lead to an outcome will be hugely empowering. The process is where the rubber meets the road.
At work, it often feels like we are focussed exclusively on the end goal, the outcome, the gold medal. We set objectives and key results, we measure KPIs, our managers talk to us about goals, we remind our teams of the vision and the end destination.
All of these things are important. Alex Honnold spends 10 years of his life living in the shadow of El Capitan obsessing about his goal to climb the rock-face. Phelps is very evidently motivated by winning gold and smashing world records.
But they match their focus on the end goal with an obsession over the process, the habits, the how.
Obsess equally over process and end goal
Let’s think about this for a minute. When was the last time:
- Your manager asked you how you were achieving a task?
- Your manager asked you what skills, resources, training, capabilities and so on you needed to complete a goal?
Giving process the attention it deserves without micromanaging
You might be thinking that, as a manager or leader, your job is to set a clear outcome and let people find their own way of achieving it. Maybe that is working for you and your teams are achieving their goals, if so, could a focus on the process will help amplify their achievements? And if that approach is not working for you, perhaps a few open questions can help show your teams that you care about process and technique and help raise their own self-awareness relating to process and technique.
Open questions you can ask to shine a light on process and technique
Open questions to help shine a light on process and technique:
- How are you going to deliver the objectives, the key results?
- What are the techniques we/you will / are using to reach your goal?
- Which of the techniques/processes you are using are you the proudest of?
- Which of the techniques/processes you are using have not worked out?
- What have we done to document and share the techniques and processes that have worked or not worked?
- What behaviors lead to this success or failure?
- What have we learned that we can repeat or avoid next time?
- What conditions were present that lead to our success or failure and where did those conditions come from? What can we do to amplify or diminish these conditions in the future?
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