Outcomes Vs. Processes: What’s Driving Your Business?Aug 25, 2022
Business outcomes are the goals of a business. They are essentially the reason that a business exists. Business processes are the series of steps used to achieve those goals. They represent how a company does business and how it interacts with its customers, suppliers, and employees.
Reach on as we break down what drives a business and what sometimes distracts from it. When we lose focus on processes being a function of goal achievement, the process can become the goal, often creating a waste of time and resources.
Losing the Art for the Painting
Let’s start with an illustration that probably sounds familiar.
We recently had a conversation with someone trying to record something on their accounting software. It was taking considerable time, and this person wondered if he should do this thing, or try that thing, or which of several options we thought might work best.
Before going down each of these rabbit holes with him we asked: Why are you doing this? What outcome are you looking for?
It’s not unusual for some process of our business – a function or feature in some software, a responsibility or expectation, even just a macro in a spreadsheet – to become its own project. We can get myopic on getting these finer strokes just right at the expense of the big picture: why does my business need this, and how does it help us achieve our goals?
It Happens to the Best Of Us
There are four key reasons why these challenges become prevalent, especially in growing and scaling companies:
- Issues with our systems are insidious. We don’t decide we’ll lose sight of asking why or aligning our actions to business purposes. It just happens.
- We sometimes don’t know there’s a breakdown until later after something has broken. Now we have two problems: The foremost thing a system was supposed to address and the issue that thing is (or is not) doing instead.
- Sometimes the challenges are the status quo. We’ve always done it this way: usually a signal that something needs to change.
- It’s easy to get stuck in the mud if you don’t know where your path is going. Without strategic goals to focus us, any work can feel meaningful… even if it isn’t.
Hit Targets, Not Tasks
That last point is big, so let’s unpack it more.
When we have those components in place, losing our way is much more difficult. Consider another illustration:
A company was instituting a new enterprise CRM for its sales team, with powerful features and robust capabilities meant to replace ad-hoc spreadsheets and inconsistency in how employees were tracking sales funnels, customers and prospects. After months of installation and integration and hundreds of combined hours in training and onboarding, the company found they were receiving less accurate information than before this fancy and expensive system was installed.
The root cause was that the sales team was never involved in or made aware of this process’s overall goal. It turned out even the decision-makers were inconsistent with why they were on this particular path – they each had their strong perspectives, and it was assumed that the sales team would see the value in a comprehensive, consistent system. Instead, salespeople in the field were spending too much time tapping icons and navigating menus rather than tracking important stuff. So much time, in fact, they were also making fewer sales calls. Many of them quietly went back to their isolated spreadsheets because it was faster and more productive for them.
The problem wasn’t necessarily that the company wasn’t ready for a new system or that the new system was somehow wrong or bad. There wasn’t enough information to know if this was even the case. The problem was that no clear goal was identified ahead of time and communicated in ways that people understood and could get on board with. A clear goal, set before any new systems were even introduced, would have helped to create guidelines on what the company was ready for, what kind of system might be necessary, and what expectations and training would be required to achieve those goals.
Instead, the most crucial department in the business was floundering for months because its people were consumed with completing tasks instead of reaching targets.
Drive Your Processes, Don’t Let Them Drive You
We have guidance on how to avoid some common pitfalls of processes so you’re more aligned with achieving objectives.
Start With Strategy
Having significant process problems almost always indicates there’s really a strategy problem.
Identify the goals for your business, including three and five-year goals. As we’ve said before – these aren’t revenue targets. They’re stations in which you want the business to exist—becoming known for incredible customer service, developing a footprint in new territories, and being recognized as a great place to work are examples.
With a goal in mind, create measurable targets. These metrics are indicators of your progress towards the goal. Now revenue can be a target if it helps to know your progress on developing a footprint in new terrorities, for instance.
Creating or refocusing goals and strategies with some outside perspective is often easier and faster to see potential issues and jumpstart calibration. Seek views that aren’t just strong with strategy but also understand systems, processes and company culture related to goal achievement.
Culture might be an unexpected concept when discussing process improvement, but it’s vital. When you have a culture of making clear decisions, being structured for success, and even having a single definition of success, your company is better equipped to know when a system is broken or could create a breakdown unless changes are made.
Go back to our sales and CRM illustration – what does it say about that company’s culture that its revenue-driving department was leaving its salespeople to manage their own ad-hoc processes? Think about that conversation with a brand new hire – Just keep notes on how it’s going with the prospects you’re talking to. I have a spreadsheet you can use if you want. Larry has a long Google doc. Jennifer over there keeps a big notebook. Whatever works for you. As exaggerated as that scenario might seem, it’s incredibly familiar for many small and mid-market organizations. Does it ring true for you?
Build Processes and Systems to Support
With established strategic goals and measurable targets, it becomes much easier to know what systems you’ll require to support reaching new milestones. Developing a better method of communicating with customers to achieve more positive customer service reviews is a system rooted in business goals. We’ll know it’s working if we increase satisfaction numbers from 3.7 to 4.1 is connected to measurable targets.
When you have frames around the canvas, it’s much easier to know where your fine strokes fit.