While phrases like “results-oriented” remain a common buzzword in job ads, the latest leadership thinking challenges organisations to shift focus on effort instead. Results are undoubtedly the cornerstone of a successful business, yet they are always preceded by sustained effort and continuous learning. By rewarding effort, organisations stand a better chance of achieving great results consistently in the long run. In other words, effort is a long-term investment which can render exponential returns.
Growth and innovation require tolerance for trial and error. They also require a supportive organisational culture where people leverage teamwork, collaboration and internal networks to achieve far more than any individual working alone. Yet a culture where results are valued over effort can promote unhealthy rivalries where the gluers are often overlooked. Contrarily, focusing on effort fosters not only a healthy workplace ecosystem but also a learning environment where people feel safe to make mistakes, without fearing these will cost them a good end-of-year rating.
Zooming in on an individual/team level, valuing effort over results sounds simpler than it is. Results are easy to quantify, effort not so much. Measuring effort means measuring the individuals’ journey towards becoming their best version and the soundness of your team dynamics. While results are objective, efforts require all leaders (not just L&D) to pay closer attention; to take the pulse of their teams; to acknowledge their willingness to pick up tasks outside their comfort zone; to factor-in the role of the context or of risks beyond their control; to value their eagerness to excel, ask hard questions and propel the organisation forward.
However, in many organisations leaders are either too busy to notice effort or they approach it from a negative standpoint. The more effort is invested by the individual/team, the more engagement is required from the leader as well. And let’s face it: many leaders want to be “bothered” only with results, not with “excuses”, “nagging” questions, experiments or issue escalations. Effort with results matters. Effort without results disturbs. But that’s not all. When it comes to diversity & inclusion, the effort versus results topic reflects a double standard.
Unconscious gender bias surfaces here as well: Men are more likely to be rewarded for effort, women for results. While women need to prove they tried, men are given credit for it. If results fail to materialise, the bad luck of the circumstance is more easily acknowledged for men. Furthermore, women are more prone to be penalised for effort as it’s often perceived as fuss. There’s an implicit expectation that women should deliver results without showing too much blood, sweat and tears. While one cannot generalise of course, asking for help and escalating risks can often be perceived as a weakness; the reverse is true: women who stop needing answers are perceived as more capable. Yet in both instances their efforts are undermined.
Valuing effort over results is a must on every leader’s agenda interested to future-proof their organisation. Rewarding effort means investing in the company’s ability to pivot, learn from its mistakes, innovate and achieve sustainable growth. It also improves collaboration, allowing employees to maximise their skill & will in ways that can catalyse collective success rather than individual results. Also, acknowledging the role of unconscious bias in underpinning effort and fostering an inclusive culture will cement the foundation of a thriving organisation.
Finally, it’s important for leaders to switch focus from the outcomes to the process, encouraging each individual to become their very best. As Hubert Joly – former CEO of Best Buy – puts it in his bestselling book The Heart of Business, it’s like playing tennis: “if you obsess about winning the point or the game, you are more likely to miss because you get tense. Your best game typically happens when you relax and focus on the ball. Loving the process and striving to do our best keeps us motivated and even more skilled over the long haul, which leads to irrational and lasting performance”.