The third reason why we should focus on outcomes is that doing so tends to make us more strategic.
We know we shouldn’t just focus on activities - that this was a major problem in HR’s earlier incarnation as Personnel. If we focus on activities we tend just to do more of these activities. (If you have a hammer every problem seems to become a nail.)
My best example of this comes from my time working as an HR Director at Ernst & Young when our US firm announced than 90% of all our development activities would be provided by e-learning. It was a disaster and ended up in lots and lots of very boring e-learning (the type of experience which puts many people off e-learning even today despite how far it has improved.) The problem occurred simply because we were developing strategy by solely looking at the activity of learning, not the outcomes we needed to achieve.
The common alternative to just focusing on activities is to try and connect activities and business results, ie to miss the outcome step in the organisation value chain. Unfortunately this tends not to work that well either.
I like to explain this by looking at performance management. I don’t particularly like competency frameworks but i think one benefit they provide is helping to connect performance objectives and training needs. So, if a manager and employee sit down at the start of the year and the performance management system asks a manager to identify six SMART objectives, most managers can give this a decent go. However if the next page of the system asks them to identify training which will help that person achieve their objectives, many managers will struggle - and the person gets no training.
It’s easier if the second page of the system asks what competencies will help the person achieve their objectives. Most managers can do this OK. And then if the third page asks what training does the person need to develop these competencies they can do that too. Result - the person gets more training to support their competencies to achieve their objectives.
The systems are asking the same thing but without the use of competencies there is just too big a conceptual jump between what the person needs to do and the training they need to do it. Competencies help cut down the time and distance between the objectives and make each question smaller making them easier to answer, and providing greater alignment too.
It’s the same with the organisation strategy map. It’s actually quite hard to look at the business objectives and then say what HR activities will support these objectives. It’s a lot easier, and results in better alignment, to ask what outcomes will support and enable these business objectives, and then what activities will create those outcomes.
This also helps ensure that the selected activities are aligned with the particular business needs, ie are best fit, rather than simply best practices.