Effort vs. Results: The Difference Between Trying and Getting It Done

by Carlos Portocarrero on 17 October 2011 3 comments
Photo: Krikit

It's great to see an employee giving his or her best on a project, but it's all for naught if you aren't getting the right results.

Effort is one of those things that a lot of young people are confused by — how can they be faulted if they didn't get the results that were expected of them when they put in 110% of their effort? Welcome to the real world, kids...a world where effort is all well and good, but it will always play a back seat to results.

I had a boss once who gave me a glowing review — she went on and on about what a great job I had done. But as part of the review process she had to pick from three "grades" to give me: very good, average, and below average.

It was a little bit of a shock when she said she was giving me the middle grade. She had a good reason — as a team, we hadn't met the goals we'd set for ourselves. The effort was there — we just weren't getting results. (See also: Goal Setting, Defined and Deconstructed)

How to Get Great Results

In an ideal world, everything you do is aimed at achieving the goals you've set out for yourself or your company set out for you. Here is a step-by-step guide to making sure you aren't wasting time with things that won't help you accomplish your goals.

Identify and Analyze the Problem

You have to know exactly what problem you're addressing. This could be really straightforward stuff like "sell more widgets" or "increase our customer base." For most people, it will be some variation of those two "problems." And if that's too vague for your everyday workload, then it's better to break it off by projects.

That means things like "increase sales for X model" or "lower the bounce rate on our site." Whatever problems your company is facing, make sure you're aware of what they are, because without this part you won't be able to...

Set a Goal

This is the guiding light for any organization, and it should be for you too. Know what your company's goals are, and tie everything you do to those goals. You should be crystal clear on what they are — otherwise the things you do won' t have any greater meaning, and you'll waste time on stuff that doesn't matter.

Some companies publish goals in common areas like the kitchen and lounges — you should do the same. Write your own goals on a little note and stick it next to your monitor or in a drawer you open every day. Seeing this all the time will remind of of what you're trying to do. Which will be easier once you...

Develop a Plan

How do you tackle the goal you've set for yourself? That's the purpose of your plan. It's the roadmap you'll follow when you get lost in the weeds a month later and aren't sure where to go. Since this will be your guide, spend plenty of time on it. If you trust the plan it'll be easier to follow up down the line.

And like any good plan, make sure you...

Measure It

"What you measure is what gets accomplished." Those were the words of famed CEO Gordon Bethune. He was famous for turning around Continental Airlines back in the 90s, and this was one of his credos. He was relentless about measuring and rewarding the very things he was trying to change.

If you're tracking exactly how many widgets are sold on a real-time basis, you'll be able make adjustments on the fly. And you will have to change, which is why you should...

Fail Fast

Don't underestimate the importance of failing fast. People like to think they don't have to fail, but failure is part of achieving results. The sooner you find out if your plan isn't working and can move on to the next idea, the better. Failing fast means you'll find what works sooner and start achieving results quicker.

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Guest's picture

As much as saying "Well, I tried," is a good way to soothe over disappointment or even a lackluster performance, truly we learn as adults it doesn't fix a lack of results! I am all for goals and just need to fine tune my understanding of what crystallizes and fulfills goals and what is truly distracting or bogging me down to achieve them!

Guest's picture

Hi. Thanks for this article. Goal setting and planning to achieve those goals we hear all the time, but adding the bit on the end of your article regarding failure, was for me the most important thing. Many of us forget that failure is a massive part of any success as we can learn as much from it. Many people think that failure means 'it is over'. I have found it means 'look for another solution'. Great article. Thanks again.

Guest's picture

I've always believed this deep down, but I've heard in numerous workshops about effort as if it reigns supreme & down playing a results emphasis. Thanks for snapping me back to reality