Oswald Letter

Long-term success requires looking beyond just the results

Business handshake and business peopleby Dan Oswald

There’s an old story that goes like this: A man walks into a bar and asks the bartender for a glass of water. Instead, the bartender pulls out a shotgun and fires a shot, just missing the man. Satisfied, the man places a nice tip on the bar, turns, and walks out.

Why would the man tip the bartender after he fired a shotgun at him? As the story goes, the man entered the bar with a case of the hiccups. He asked for the water as a potential cure. Instead, the bartender surprised (and scared) him by firing the gun and, in doing so, cured his hiccups. While it wasn’t what the man had expected, it did get the result he was looking for, and thus, he felt the bartender deserved to be compensated for helping achieve his desired outcome.

In business, it’s not uncommon for people to say, “I don’t care how you do it as long as you get the desired result.” Or, “I don’t need to tell people how to do their job as long as they are producing the results I want.”

On the surface, it sounds like these statements affirm personal responsibility. As a manager, you don’t need to tell people how to do their job as long as the job is getting done right and their performance meets your expectations. But there’s more to it than that. How a person does his job matters.

For instance, the first statement above reads, “I don’t care how you do it as long as you get the desired result.” Is that really true? What if the employee is lying, cheating, or stealing to get the desired result? Then do you care? What if the employee is cutting corners and exposes the company to long-term liabilities to achieve the short-term results expected of him? Then do you care?

The fact is, we should care about how people do their jobs. I’ve written before about how legendary college basketball coach John Wooden began every season by teaching his players how to properly put on their socks. He had young men capable of being admitted to college, yet he taught them how to put their socks on before he allowed them to take the court to practice basketball! Wooden believed that how his players did the little things affected the team’s long-term success.

Likewise, Nick Saban, the legendary coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide, who plays tonight for its fifth college football national title since he took over the team, also believes that if you take care of the little things, the results will take care of themselves. Saban preaches to his players that they need to focus on the play the team is about to run. More than that, he tells his players to focus on their individual responsibilities on each play. If each player does his job, Saban’s philosophy goes, then the team will collectively execute each play. If they are successful on each play, the outcome of the game will take care of itself. So instead of focusing on the results, Saban actually does the exact opposite.

In a world where we believe only the results matter, I’d argue that there’s much more to it than that. How you do the job does matter. So instead of focusing only on the results, how about considering how the job is being done? Are you proud of the actions you are taking to get those results?

And like Wooden and Saban, how about considering what steps each member of your team needs to take for you to achieve your goal? Determine what would constitute success for each task a team member needs to complete. Get your team hyper-focused on what each one needs to accomplish individually, and watch them soar!

Focusing only on the results might work in the short-term, but long-term success requires a consistency that can be achieved only by having every member of your team executing at a high level on an ongoing basis. Focus on doing every task well, and you’ll be amazed by the results.