By Emeka Oparah
In my almost 10 years in Senior Leadership role, I have seen many young managers confuse effort with results. I have been there, as a young manager, and so I completely understand the psychology that underpins the mix up. So, when my boss recently made reference to this misconception, I naturally took a trip down memory lane.
As the Media Relations Manager in Cadbury Nigeria, between 1994 and 2002, I was in charge of the production of the company Newsletter, Cadbury News, among other responsibilities. During my 8 years in the company, the publication attained a pre-eminent status and was much sought after by employees. Even our external stakeholders, including the media, looked forward to it. Cadbury News was one of the best then with news, views, sports and entertainment, even if i say so myself.
Now, even if I had an Editorial Board, which helped in editorial work, I was solely responsible for the production and final delivery of the the magazine. It was one of my KRAs (Key Result Areas). So, I was appraised not only on the quality (content, look and feel) of the magazine but also on the timing of the magazine, among others. My boss and I had agreed delivery timelines set at the beginning of every year when the newsletter MUST be in circulation.
The first two editions of the newsletter under my supervision were late. I certainly delivered a vastly improved magazine, but they were both behind schedule. My boss, Kevin Ejiofor, a Manager and half, while commending the magazine took “administrative note” of the lateness and promised not to accept it a third time. Sadly, it happened a third time and he read me the Riot Act!
I showed up at the review meeting armed with what now seems like justifications for failure. I blamed my editorial board for not giving me enough support. I complained about how I single-handedly did almost all the stories. I lamented how I spent sleepless nights at the production house (Desktop Publishing was then a novelty and was not done internally). In short, I listed the massive effort I put into delivering the magazine. I talked about the countless trips to the printers, etc, etc.
In the end, Mr. Ejiofor stood up, gave me a handshake and said “well done for your effort, young man, but your effort was not good enough. It did NOT bring the agreed result. Your beautiful magazine, unfortunately, is late again,” he ended sarcastically and ended the meeting. However, being a conscientious manager, he stopped by my office after lunch and asked me to see him again in the evening with a plan to ensure the magazine didn’t come a day late again.
I dare say, the 4th edition not only came on schedule, it also looked much better than the previous editions. The 5th edition came ahead of schedule and looked even better, and so on and so forth. It became very clear to me that there is a huge difference between effort and results. While effort can be described as all the activities aimed at achieving a result (or results), result is the final outcome. So, for Cadbury News, the desired (agreed) outcome was that I must produce 4 editions of Cadbury News in high quality delivered not later than certain dates. Period.
As I earlier premised, I have come across young managers who, sometimes innocently, confuse effort and result. Having been there and done it, I always tell them the parable of the mother who cooked what she believed was a fantastic meal but found her children all sleeping by the time she finished. To be fair, she made great effort to cook her children (and probably her husband) a great meal, but she fell short of a great outcome due to the fact that the meal came late-and the children unfortunately went to bed hungry!
I give you six useful tips to avoid making the mistake of confusing effort and results as follows:
1. People are rewarded for results, not effort. Every serious enterprise operates on a set of goals or targets set at a particular time for a stated period. The success or failure of the enterprise depends on the achievement of those goals (results). Everyone involved in the enterprise, therefore, has a role or responsibility towards achieving the results. At the end of the period, everyone’s contribution is measured, judged and rewarded by the results they bring to the table. So, be focused on your targets or results while making your effort. Never forget results come, in the most part, in numbers and timelines not necessarily activities or words. It is easier to measure results than effort.
2. Roles come with responsibilities. Even charity organizations and NGOs have stated goals and results. So every role, in every organizations, have responsibilities. Be clear of your responsibilities in any role you find yourself. Seek clarity, if you are not sure because within your responsibilities are the results and targets expected of you. If your Job description does not come with clearly defined results or outcomes, take it up with your manager-urgently. Even the Cleaner in the office should have measurable KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) for their KRAs.
3. Review your performance regularly. Do not wait for the company’s annual performance appraisal to know how you doing. If your goals and targets are clearly defined and understood, you should have checkpoints where you determine how well or badly you are doing and how much time you have left to achieve them. That way, there will be no argument at the end of the day. For example, if your target is to generate revenue of N60m in a year split into N5m per month, you do not need anyone to tell you whether you are meeting the target or not. Your checkpoints or tracker should tell you that already before your manager does.
4. You can re-negotiate your targets. Yes, you can. Targets are meant for man not man for targets, to borrow a famous Biblical assertion on Sabbath. Targets are set based on certain business parameters including environmental factors. Some targets on their own are too ambitious and unrealistic. If you have a system of regularly (monthly or quarterly) reviewing your performance with your manager, it is possible to renegotiate your target based on “changing prevailing circumstances”. Trust me, excuses cannot be the basis for renegotiating targets, but the pandemic, foreign exchange rates and insecurity (terrorism, if you may) could justly affect business results hence targets. Indeed, they have have deleterious impact on the results of many businesses in Nigeria and the world over in 2020 and 2021! Be sure you renegotiate and document the amendments or you will have yourself to blame at the end of the review period.
5. No one is indispensable. One of the easiest ways of losing your job is non-performance. As I stated elsewhere, even a charity expects results. If you do not deliver results, based on agreed goals and targets, you risk being relieved of your job regardless of how much effort you think or claim you have made. You could be moved to another role or demoted, if you are lucky, but in most cases, you will be shown the gate. There are always people waiting to take your position either within the organization or outside. The effort you made will not be considered as results. Efforts are efforts and results are results, in spite of the operating environment.
6. Pray for luck. As we say in Nigeria, “life no balance”, which means things do not always work out the way they should. Here’s a Sales Manager, who works extremely hard and truly makes a lot of effort but due to sudden insurgency in his area of coverage, her sales figures tanked. Compare that with another Sales Manager, who’s not known to be extremely hardworking but luck shines on him and a huge sale drops out of nowhere into his lazy laps! As a firm believer in Divine Epiphany, I recommend you cover your effort with prayers so your leads turn right, your amber turns green and you achieve and even surpass your expected results. Prayer without effort is absolutely USELESS, meanwhile.
In closing, think about the driver of a commercial bus purchased on credit terms, who is required to pay back a fixed amount periodically. No one is interested in any stories from him except that he pays in the agreed amount of money on the agreed date. That he made a lot of effort but could not make the monthly pay back will not save him from losing the vehicle. Effort is not result. QED.
One last thing: Please note the above is not meant to suggest that good effort does not count or should not be recognized. Far be it from me any such proposition, but I give it to you in strong terms of recommendation to focus more on your results than your effort. Tough? Not really. Effort will only earn due recognition when it leads to results. Yet, those who make good effort but fall short of expectations should be encouraged to raise their game. Talking about raising their game, a bronze medalist never gets the same bonus as a gold medalist. Already bronze is bronze and gold is gold, if you get the drift.
By the way, people are paid for doing what they are employed to do. Nobody is promoted for doing their job. Promotions are typically based on surpassing expectations, doing more than you have been asked to do. The teams I have led know I will always send an email (note of appreciation) after every successful outing or delivery of a task. However, I write a letter, which goes to their files, when the success is truly remarkable. My father told me that nobody gets praised for doing what they are supposed to do, but when they do more than they are supposed or expected to do.
As you set out this week, remind yourself that EFFORT is not the same as RESULTS and remember to focus on the expected results as you make your effort.
Emeka Oparah is Vice President, Corporate Communications & CSR, Airtel Nigeria.