One Simple Question to Evaluate Effort and Achieve Results

Updated: Sep 12, 2018

Achieving optimal results, in nearly every facet of our lives, requires a good deal of planning, a little luck, and 100 percent effort. We are familiar with these fundamentals.  We were taught them at an early age and spend most days doing our best to use them to achieve both personal and professional results.  As simple as these fundamentals are, we are still compelled to seek out newer, better and different methods to achieve optimal results.  A simple internet search for, “how to improve results”, illustrates this desire and yields over 765 million web pages.  Yikes!

Let’s first examine planning. In a world of endless quantities of data, the ability to develop an appropriate plan is much easier than it has been for prior generations.  When even the most inexperienced analysis of the data is performed, a plan that has the capacity to achieve optimal results can be generated.  Ronan Dunne, EVP and Group President at Verizon Wireless, recently spoke on this topic.  He asserted that, “A perfect plan, executed poorly, will not deliver optimal results.  But, even a mediocre plan, when executed flawlessly, can far exceed expectations.”  While the planning is vitally important, we must look further and keep exploring.

Can we then consider the impact of luck and how we can generate more of it? If we agree that the quote, “I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more of it I have,” often attributed to Thomas Jefferson, is relevant to this examination, then we must again continue to look deeper in our quest for achieving optimal results.

In my experience, the seemingly unending journey to achieve optimal results rests firmly in the category of effort. But effort is a funny thing. When effort and results don't align, we seek to understand why, and we look to flaws in strategy, gaps in execution, or to others who let the mission down. Often we tell ourselves we gave 100% effort and seek other answers for why results were not optimal.

This holds true in every aspect of our lives. Whether the mission is to be a better parent, a better leader, a better spouse, a better friend, achieve sales results, expand professional networks, get promoted or achieve health and fitness objectives, effort is the key that creates luck and makes plans successful.

In business, we must evaluate our own effort and that of the critical stakeholders on any project or team. We must use the proper lens.  We must make an agreement with ourselves that might feel uncomfortable at first, but will facilitate the clarity necessary to more competently evaluate effort.  We must agree that in all situations, at all times, every day, everyone gives 100 percent effort.  See, I told you that would feel uncomfortable.  But it is the absolute truth.  Now, we are prepared to ask the one simple question to evaluate effort and achieve results.

Is the effort 100 percent of what is willing to be given, or is it 100 percent of what is necessary to achieve the desired result?

Let me illustrate briefly a scenario that clearly supports this point. You are with your closest family, in a hospital waiting room.  A loved one is in surgery, and you are waiting for the doctor to finish and update you.  The surgeon emerges from the hallway and approaches the waiting room.  In that moment you are not hoping to hear how hard she worked during the surgery, or that her team “really dug in and gave it their best effort”.  What you want to hear is the result.  Was the surgery successful?  Did she accomplish what she set out to?  Did she do 100 percent of what she was willing to do, or 100 percent of what was necessary to help your loved one?

The distinction between these two levels of effort is absolutely vital. It is the space between them that poses the greatest challenge to leaders in the workplace and to all of us in our quest for personal accomplishment.  We could survey 100 sales employees who missed their quotas more than once in the last six months, and we wouldn’t be surprised if all 100 responded that they “gave 100 percent effort, things just didn’t work out, because...”  I would argue that they are absolutely being honest in that assessment.  The critical distinction is that they gave 100 percent of what they were willing to give, not 100 percent of what was necessary to achieve quota. 

There is no silver bullet solution to solving this. There is no one path to enlightenment that yields optimal effort, every time.  However, there are exercises that we can use to ensure we define, promote, support and maintain an environment where 100 percent of optimal effort is less of an exception and more of a rule.

Go ahead and try one exercise right now. I encourage you to take a moment to reflect back on the last major accomplishment you are truly proud of; one that you can attribute to good ol' fashioned hard work.  Because you already know you achieved the optimal result, you can operate with the knowledge that you gave 100 percent of the effort necessary.  Congratulations!  Now write down the answers to these three questions:

  1. What was the situation and the desired result?

  2. How did you measure progress to your result?

  3. How frequently did you examine your progress?

The exact details of your answers, while specific to one situation also provide a general guide to follow as you embark on your next ambitious challenge. For yourself, or your team, you can help ensure that optimal results are achieved, because optimal effort is maintained by clearly articulating the following:

Details of the desired result or outcome

Measurements of both the final result and progress along the way

Period of time measured between milestones or check-ins to evaluate progress

Clarity and specificity are mandatory in this exercise.  Far too often, we embark on some of our greatest journeys and ask our teams to face some of their greatest challenges without this understanding.  We do this because without realizing it, we sometimes fool ourselves in to thinking that we are giving 100 percent of what is necessary, when in fact we are only giving 100 percent of what we are willing.

You'll give 100% every day. You'll either give 100% of what you're willing, or you'll give 100% of what's required. - Devin HaLLIDAY


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