Success Strategies - January/February - 2018

Outcomes: The Reason That Jobs Exist

Ask most people, “What do you do for a living?” and they’ll describe their job title. “I’m a salesperson,” “I’m a builder,” or, “I’m the office manager.” If pressed for more, they’ll describe the functions they perform, as in a typical job description. That’s because most people focus on actions or processes rather than on outcomes.

So what’s wrong with that? Here’s what’s wrong: The answers aren’t true. At least they aren’t the whole truth.

If you’re a salesperson, then what you’re paid to do is the effect of your actions, not merely the actions themselves. For example, you may be identifying prospective customers, contacting them, showing them how your company or product can help them, and encouraging them to buy. But what you’re paid to do is to help them via your product or service and assure that your company gets paid for doing it.

In other words, if I buy a rebuild from you, it isn’t the rebuilt transmission that I want: I want what it will do for me and I want the experience of using my car to complete my tasks day to day.

I’m looking for a tool that makes transportation more efficient and enjoyable. The vehicle is simply the tool that gets me there. Change the transmission or the vehicle but still get me the same outcome and I’ll still like you and pay you.

The transmission rebuilder isn’t selling repairs; he’s selling cars that work again. Transmissions don’t care; they just perform a function. No humans required. It’s the outcome of these functions that’s worth paying for: no more breakdowns or slips.

The desired outcome is a contented and loyal future customer, as well as an on-time, fully paid transaction. The “What do you do?” answer might be, “I help people make sure that their cars’ transmissions work, so they can get on with their lives.”

You may be thinking that this is turning a simple task into too much work. Why not just say, “I’m the transmission guy”? Because, by only saying that, you’re ignoring the reason that anyone would want a transmission in the first place.

We don’t pay people to do jobs; we pay them to achieve outcomes! The job isn’t important, but the effect of doing it well is very important.

How about emergency medical technicians — EMTs? What’s their job? I’d say that it’s saving lives. Nothing else matters as much as that.

“What do you do?”

“I save lives.”


Once we identify the outcome we want, then every other action can be measured against it.

Does it save lives? Yes.

Okay, then we’ll do it. If not, we’ll let someone else handle it or find a system to do it instead of us.

I once employed a sales manager who described himself as a salesman. I asked, “Why do I need a salesman in my company?” He said, “Because you need to make sales.” I disagreed. He was incredulous. “What?” he said, “Of course, you need to make sales!” Yes, I need new clients and to be paid by my existing clients, but “making sales” is simply a step along the way.

The purpose of selling isn’t to make sales; that’s a function. The purpose is to help the people who buy from us while profiting from helping them. To help people and be paid for doing it. If we don’t help them, then we’ve failed them, even if they paid. If we don’t get paid, then we’ve failed ourselves, because we’ll soon run out of money and no longer be able to help people.

The reason I need salespeople in my company is to help me build a profitable clientele. A customer who chooses to remain my customer becomes my client. If I’m making good money by helping my clients, then before long I’ll become successful.

The more customers I convert into clients, the easier my business becomes, because repeat purchases are dramatically less costly to produce than first-time buyers. The more customers I convert into clients, the more people I have working with me to advance my success.

Satisfied customers are great sales resources. The salesperson’s real job isn’t making sales. Instead, it’s finding the right customers, helping them commit to buying, and making sure that they’re highly satisfied with their decision to buy from me. That’s clientele building; not just selling.

Process = Selling

Outcome = Profitable Clients

Earl Nightingale once told a story about a woman who was shopping for a wood-burning stove. The salesperson showed her a stove and elaborately described all its features: the craftsmanship, weight, durability, and brand reputation. Finally, she interrupted him and asked, “Will it keep me warm?”

Product = Stove

Outcome = Warmth

People buy outcomes!

Suzy was my assistant. Though she didn’t have a title, hers might have been “executive assistant.” Most people believed that her job was answering calls, handling correspondence, and filing. But she and I saw it differently.

We were both clear that calls, correspondence, and filing were simply functions that led to her real job… the outcome I was paying her for.

That job was “making my employer more effective.”

The way Suzy could tell if she was doing what she was truly paid to do was by measuring whether I was more effective. If I was unproductive, wasting time, doing low-value work during high-value time, or if I was distracted by issues that she or others could have handled for me, then I’d be less effective.

My main job was to assure the success of the company so that all of us had job security and a sense of meaning and value. Her job was to see to it that I accomplished my job. That’s why I needed an executive assistant. Anything that pulled me away from my main job would ultimately have a negative impact on Suzy and everyone else who worked there.

Function = Assisting

Outcome = Executive is more effective

Most people think of filing as boring and unimportant work that can always wait till later. But then an urgent request for information forces them to scour multiple stacks of paper, frantically looking for the document or the answer that’s needed. If it had been filed properly, retrieval would be easy.

Question: “Where’s the signed contract?” Answer: “In that client’s file under ‘contracts.’” Problem solved.

Function = Filing

Outcome = Information easily accessible

Those who think of filing as storage need to remember this:

If you’ve filed something poorly and we can’t find it, then you didn’t file it, you hid it! Filing is about retrieval, not storage.

Function = Mailing

Outcome = Receipt of the item

It doesn’t matter whether you mailed it. It only matters whether they received it when needed.

Function = Saying Thank You

Outcome = Causing someone to feel our gratitude

It doesn’t matter how many calls, cards or gifts you sent if the person doesn’t feel that you were grateful toward them. The resulting feeling — knowing that you are grateful to them — is what matters.

Function = Homework

Outcome = Learning

Which is more important, to get kids to do their homework, or to teach them to love to learn? Getting them to comply and do their homework is useful, but it isn’t the real job. The real job for parents and teachers is to teach the child to love to learn.

Once they love the experience of learning, then we needn’t worry about their homework ever again. If they love to learn, they’ll find the answers they need and explore whatever they want to learn.

Almost every business has a web site these days, but most of them don’t get much help from it. It’s as if they just moved their Yellow Pages ad over to the internet. But what a web site should do for a business is allow it to perform digital functions without taking time away from the employees’ more productive activities.

Things that don’t require personal attention can be systematized and standardized on line. It doesn’t matter how sophisticated or impressive your web site is. What matters is whether it makes your business run more smoothly and cost efficiently.

Function = Building a web site

Outcome = Allowing a business to operate efficiently online without direct human involvement in each transaction

Have you ever heard someone say, “I said I’m sorry; so now what’s the problem?”

When you say, “I’m sorry,” it doesn’t matter until the other person is convinced that you know what you did wrong, understand how it affected them, and feel truly remorseful for doing it so that you won’t repeat the error in the future. Apologizing doesn’t matter until it’s true and they believe it.

Function = Apology

Outcome = Showing true remorse

And then there are unintended outcomes. Here’s an urban myth circulated by email since 1996 and memorialized in “The Cigar Song” by Brad Paisley:

A lawyer purchased a box of 24 very rare and expensive cigars, and then insured them against, among other things, fire.

Within a month, having smoked his entire stockpile of these great cigars, the lawyer filed a claim against the insurance company. In his claim, the lawyer stated the cigars were lost ‘in a series of small fires.’

The insurance company refused to pay, citing the obvious reason: that the man had consumed the cigars in the normal fashion.

The lawyer sued and won!

Stay with me…

Delivering the ruling, the judge agreed with the insurance company that the claim was frivolous. The judge stated, nevertheless, that the lawyer held a policy from the company in which it had warranted that the cigars were insurable and also guaranteed that it would insure them against fire, without defining what is considered to be ‘unacceptable fire,’ and therefore was obligated to pay the claim.

Rather than endure a lengthy and costly appeal process, the insurance company accepted the ruling and paid $15,000 to the lawyer for his loss of the cigars that perished in the ‘fires.’

Now for the best part…

After the lawyer cashed the check, the insurance company had him arrested on 24 counts of arson! With his own insurance claim and testimony from the previous case being used against him, the lawyer was convicted of intentionally burning his insured property and was sentenced to 24 months in jail and a $24,000 fine.

The outcome is the reason for the action. Keep your focus on the goal.

Jim Cathcart, CSP, CPAE, is one of the most award-winning professional speakers in the world. He is a long-term strategic advisor to ATRA and contributor to GEARS. As the author of 18 books and having delivered over 3100 speeches, he has reached millions with his uplifting messages. Contact Jim at and visit his web site