The Process Or The Outcome? What’s More Important?
Last year, I attended a training at work for people managers. One of the sessions focused on how to develop a culture of psychological safety on teams and encourage calculated risk taking. The question we were trying to solve was how to encourage employees to think in a 10X manner. How to think big and creatively. The facilitator mentioned an author (I don’t recall the name unfortunately) that wrote about the importance of decoupling outcomes from process. In other words, finding a balance between an emphasis on how you achieve an accomplishment and the actual accomplishment. This decoupling was identified as one way to create an environment where people feel empowered to be creative in their approach to problem solving and worry less about the “right solution”. They become thinkers and not just doers.
There are several examples on both sides of the spectrum and which side you choose for yourself and your team (or family) incentivizes certain behaviors. In highly outcomes based environments, you tend to see behaviors that many would consider lacking in character and integrity just to achieve a goal—think about the now defunct Enron or Lehman Brothers and the other cut-throat cultures that continue to run rampant. On the flip side, you see examples in kids sports or competitions where everyone is a “winner” and gets a trophy, regardless of outcome or contribution.
The question posed by the same author is, “if you’re a winner because you win, are you also a loser if you lose?”. Is it right for us to anchor our self worth and identities to an outcome or is the process more important?
I’d wager to say that most (if not all of us) work in environments where what you accomplish is absolutely the measure of your value as an employee. And rightly so...that’s what can be measured in an objective manner. Companies aren’t charities. They exist to make money and provide value so it makes sense that there needs to be measurable outcomes to measure progress and value. What company has the luxury of compensating an employee because of how they work even if their outputs are non-existent?
There’s a type of yoga called karma yoga that’s anchored in a philosophy of decoupling action from outcomes; more specifically, investing fully in an action without attachment to the consequences or desired benefits. There’s something soothing in this approach to life. Think of how much more enjoyable college would have been if you were allowed to learn, just for the sake of learning and understanding, and not for a letter grade to indicate your level of intellect. Of course, I’d like to think I’m grounded in reality so I understand that this approach isn’t a realistic expectation in the workplace.
If I take up pottery and all of my bowls turn out lopsided, that’s ok because it’s not really about the pottery but the enjoyment from learning and experiencing something new. If I practice and remain diligent, at some point I may perfect my craft. I have the luxury of time and making mistakes. The more I thought about this concept, the more I came to realize why it’s so important to take up hobbies and activities outside of work that bring us happiness; free from judgement or metrics.
I think the importance of process or outcome depends on the aspect of your life that you’re applying it to. By exploring genuine interests, we can all find a bit more balance and serenity in our lives.