We're lost but making good time

May 2014

Yesterday, I finished my semi-annual performance reviews with my staff here in the U.S. Many people might perceive this to be an awkward and uncomfortable process, but it has become a welcomed and meaningful part of our culture. I have always known that we needed to have good systems to monitor and evaluate the outcomes of the programs we provide to our Kenyan clients, but I didn’t fully grasp the importance of orienting our U.S. staff towards specific, measurable outcomes as well.

In December, I read a short monograph called Leap of Reason: Managing to Outcomes in an Era of ScarcityI borrowed the title of this blog from that book. You can download your free copy here. The main thesis of the book is that “if we don’t manage to outcomes, we greatly diminish our collective impact.” Simply put, managing to outcomes or results means understanding with great clarity what we are trying to achieve, collecting relevant measurements to assess our progress towards that destination, and using that information to course-correct as needed. Too often, we evaluate our people only on behaviors and activities, but we also need to be evaluating them on the outcomes their work is producing. If we fail to do that, “we’ll get lost, but we’ll be making good time,” as Yogi Berra once said.


I have always been taught that the best leaders value BOTH results and relationships. Often times in the non-profit industry, we place a much greater emphasis on relationships and not enough on results. Someone may have impeccable character and be deeply passionate about the work you are doing, but that does not give us permission to tolerate mediocre performance.

Mario Morino said it best, ‘‘we avoid providing the honest, constructive feedback people need to improve. When steps for improvement don’t work, we are loath to make changes, especially terminations, lest we rock the boat.Too many of us allow appeasement and accommodation to override doing our best for those we serve.

So, how do we create a healthy culture that not only fosters collaboration, celebration, and commitment, but one where our people are constantly striving to achieve better outcomes?

The book, Leap of Reasongives us 8 ways that we can influence our cultures to become more oriented towards performance:

  1. Recruit culture leaders
  2. Walk the talk
  3. Know what you stand for
  4. Answer the question “To what end?”
  5. Ensure that everyone is moving toward the same destination
  6. Ensure a balance between leaders and managers
  7. Be clear and direct about what you expect
  8. Encourage self-improvement and personal growth

I will unpack these ideas in greater detail in a later post.

What is your bias: results or relationships? How can you compensate to achieve a better balance?