Shift your Focus from Objectives to Outcomes

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Leadership Distinction #49: Objective

Everyone understands the noun, Objective, to mean a goal we seek to reach. And we also all understand the adjective, Objective, to describe a perspective that is stripped of feelings and biases and desires, and represents a purely factual take on things. Which brings me to my point: I suspect the reason many companies fail to achieve their goals is that their Objectives are too Objective. 

Consider the job descriptions you have seen, or the company budgets and action plans you’ve read. They’re loaded with endless bulleted items, which on close examination prove more often than not to be, well, Objectives, of varying degrees of importance. I often think these long lists of bulleted Objectives are just filler, used to improve the appearance of a plan which doesn’t get an explanation for why it is important to pursue it in the first place, what it fixes, or how the heck it is going to be brought about.

Whoever it was that came up with the word ‘bullet’ for the hyphenated, indented string of text that bears no sentence structure or punctuation was more prescient than he or she could have realized — because bullets are for killing, and the sheer number of bullets being fired by documents of seeming commercial importance is sure to kill anything meaningful within them.

Whoever it was that came up with the convention of saying “goals and Objectives”, as if these two words meant two different things, was less insightful. But I wonder if we applied more human feeling and desire and bias to that which we claim to be going after would we then arrive at something like “goals and subjectives”?

Ah, perhaps not. But one other way we might bring to life and make potentially real the lifeless goal phrases that litter our documents of intention is to ask the responsible authors to declare outcomes – desired future states following the achieving of so-called Objectives. A described outcome requires a bit of subjectivity, an ounce of humanity, a dash of hopefulness – a situation we might be able to envision. Well, that’s my un-factual take on things.

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Episode 48