We are all busy. Ask any of your colleagues how they are doing: if the word ‘busy’ doesn’t feature, I’ll eat my hat. Over time, ‘busy’ seems to have become our target state at work. If we are ‘busy’, we must be delivering. Right?

Well: no. To correlate busyness with delivery is both a dangerous and a false assumption to make. It is easy to be ‘busy’; far too easy, in our open plan working environments, with questions and emails and requests coming in from all directions. How many times have you reached the end of a non-stop day only to have not actually achieved anything at all? Such is the curse of ‘busy’.

Cutting through the noise

The very best employees have the ability to cut through the noise and focus their efforts on those tasks and activities which are going to really add value; the very best managers are those who enable their employees to do just that.

Despite knowing this, it is still startling just how few managers out there are sufficiently focused on delivery. There are countless accounts of where the best performers in organisations are perceived to be not those who have delivered the most, but rather those who have been sat at their desks for the longest period of time. Slowly, the tide is starting to change, but not quickly enough… and those organisations who are outperforming their competitors will be those where presenteeism has taken second place to delivery.

Objectively measuring performance

So how do we enable our employees to deliver. Well, at risk of stating the obvious, the first step has to be tangible goals. Call them KPIs, OKRs, or anything else: the end result should be exactly the same. A clear set of goals, agreed with the employees, designed both to stretch them and to target their efforts. Without this set of goals, it is impossible to objectively measure performance.

Going against the traditional view that those who are sat in the office longest must be delivering the most, our star performers should actually be those who are achieving the greatest percentage of their goals, delivering a consistently high level of quality, in the shortest possible time. By setting clear goals, and taking regular time out to review delivery against these goals, we are suddenly able to objectively identify who is really performing.

Speculating to accumulate

The challenge, of course, is that it is far easier to monitor who’s in the office than it is who is delivering. It takes a change in mindset, and a commitment to speculate to accumulate – the time you will need to invest upfront to set clear delivery targets will be returned to you several times over in the efficiencies your team is therefore able to make as a result.

What else do we need to do? Well, much as we need to set goals, we also need to ensure we remove any blockers to those goals. Before, as managers, we start berating our teams for not hitting targets, we need to first make sure that we’ve supported them in removing the obstacles in their way. Setting goals is one half of the puzzle, but looking at what’s preventing people from reaching those goals is the very important other half.

Tangible outputs are king

How many teams are as efficient as they possibly could be? The answer is, almost none, and that’s because managers and heads of department haven’t take the time to look both at delivery, and how that delivery is being achieved.

And the third way that we influence delivery is by ensuring that it’s appropriately rewarded. By highlighting those team members who are delivering the most, by linking delivery directly to promotion, development, and reward, we begin to instil a culture where the delivery of tangible outputs is king. The behaviours we hold up as being best in class will be those others seek to emulate. And an organisation with a culture of consistently outperforming and overdelivering is an organisation to envy indeed.