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Make work a business-critical asset – drive outcomes, not outputs

Scott Lee Profile picture for user Scott Lee August 6, 2020
The disruption of COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of keeping work aligned with strategy. Workfront's Scott Lee on driving outcomes in the new normal

Webcam laptop video call of diverse team meeting © fizkes - Shutterstock
(© fizkes - Shutterstock)

COVID-19 has forced businesses to focus more keenly than ever on how work gets done. It's never been clearer that work must be treated as a business-critical asset. It demands the same management attention as other tier one assets, such as finance, people, and customers — to make sure it delivers the returns the business expects.

This means managing work in a strategic way that aligns everyone's work to the strategy and success of the business to drive outcomes, rather than a series of individual deliverables. 

Make the extraordinary more ordinary

COVID-19 amplified the importance of managing work strategically. Businesses need to be able to operate more flexibly while meeting marketplace demands. The race for a vaccine is just one example, as pharmaceutical companies are having to accelerate operations to meet the world's critical needs in the middle of a global pandemic. Other businesses will have their own stories.

Business leaders guiding initiatives in today's unpredictable business environment need to understand the full picture of work being done across the company — and collaborate to stay focused on the right work as priorities and strategies shift. Undirected work is wasted effort. They need the ability to move large, complex, enterprise work efforts more efficiently, quickly, and with greater engagement toward the outcomes the business is striving toward. 

For most leaders today, once a plan is finalized and work begins across different teams, that's typically when they lose visibility and start scrambling to make sense of what work is — and isn't — happening. Leaders need to monitor progress and take corrective actions in real time. They need to see who's working on what and how it aligns to goals at all times. And they need to focus on outcomes, not outputs.

Focus on outcomes, not outputs

As businesses adjust to the new realities of work, they're focused on achieving outcomes, not outputs. But individuals tend to focus on their part of the work — their deliverables — often with little visibility into how their outputs impact the overall outcome.

Leaders need to look across these various outputs to determine whether outcomes are being achieved. They need to align strategy to delivery by demonstrating and clarifying how everyone's work impacts big-picture company strategy, helping to flatten the hierarchy and make their businesses more responsive and agile amid change.

COVID-19 has brought the need to treat work strategically into sharp focus. When everyone moved to working from home, the speed of change and the unprecedented uncertainty emphasized the fact that in the digital economy your strategy has to be responsive. Being strategic today means swapping a set-it-and-forget-it mentality with vigilance, agility, and iterative planning and refining.

Bring strategic planning into the virtual realm

Normally, strategic work planning involves leaders meeting regularly to assess the resources available against the work required and prioritizing work in the most effective way. With ongoing market shifts and physical meetings out of the question, companies need to streamline and simplify their continuous planning process so they can adapt to change and quickly and intelligently tune existing plans.

Strategic planning technology that lets leaders create and compare multiple what-if scenarios to determine — and execute on — the best path forward is a crucial capability in today's market. It allows businesses to evaluate different scenarios and their implications, and decide where work needs to be focused to achieve the desired outcomes. Now that so many people are working remotely, the ability to share scenarios and continuously plan in one solution is essential.

Make work meaningful for everyone

When company strategy shifts, organizations must make this change meaningful for individuals at every level, which means helping people understand how the work they do matters and contributes to the organization's goals. Workfront's 2020 State of Work research shows that people want to achieve strategic impact. Most people (65%) want to be measured not by outputs, but by how their work contributes to outcomes. Results, not deliverables, matter to the majority of your workforce.

Showing everyone how their work is aligned to a broader strategy that's helping the company succeed is motivating and engaging. Aligning individual work to company goals helps everyone understand how they are contributing to meaningful outcomes.

Get ready for the 'next normal'

What does all this change mean for the future of work? What will the ‘next normal' look like and how can businesses prepare? The biggest change for most people, particularly in the knowledge sector, will be where and how they work. Before COVID-19, approximately 5% of Americans worked from home — travelling to work was a common experience. Around 50% of people work from home today and experts predict this figure will level out at around 25% to 30% working from home permanently.

This is a significant change to the way we experience work and has implications for employee health and well-being, as well as the wider economy. As we transition from going to work to logging into work, managing work from anywhere is a business imperative.

Manage work - and drive outcomes - from anywhere

Businesses with work management technology that allows employees to work effectively from anywhere will win in today's market. They'll be able to attract the best talent and engage a virtual workforce. They'll be able to thrive amid constant change with the ability to continuously plan while keeping everyone's work connected to the company's strategic North Star. They'll be able to approach work strategically, as a tier one asset - something that's essential in our COVID-19 era. 

COVID-19 just accelerated the digital transformation of work. Keeping up requires integrating all your data and workstreams, automating routine tasks, and reducing the administrative burden on your workforce so you can enable people to do high-value work that drives business outcomes, not outputs.

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