Sound Bites

Shifting from Output to an Outcome Mindset™

with Nanci Taylor, Vice President, Digital Strategy at IBM

Nanci Taylor

Nanci Taylor, Vice President, Digital Strategy at IBM: People feel really good about doing large quantities of work, even though the value they think they’re adding might actually create work for others.

That shift is one of the first things my team pointed out and called me on when we started this process. They would question me, “You want us to go do that, but it’s not in my objectives for this quarter — what do you mean we have to do it?” It’s the same situation as when people write their job descriptions and then get assigned other duties. They call out, in their Agile language, “Where does that fall in my backlog? I don’t see it. Now you’re putting into my funnel. How do you want me to prioritize that?” By asking these questions, they’re helping to hold me accountable for how they spend their time.

They’re also helping to hold their colleagues accountable when they come and ask for help. IBM is a large and complex organization, and we’ve got a finite set of teams that have embraced OKR and are learning it and applying it right now. When someone outside that circle comes in, it’s hard to have that conversation. I hear them pushing back and saying, “That’s just activity — you want me to participate in output, and I’m focused on outcomes.”

There’s a proud moment when I hear those conversations, and, at the same time, I can understand what they’re asking for and why they’re asking for it. So, the question becomes, “How do we help shift their mindset to understand what we’re doing, where we are on the journey and get them excited so that they want to go on that journey with us?” Even with the early adopters we can pull in, it’s tricky when the whole organization isn’t operating in unison.

My team has a loud opinion on activity versus outcome — they don’t even start with the objective question; they go right to the punchline, “So if we were to do that, what would success look like and for whom?

That’s a productive way to frame the response when someone innocently asks for help, and it’s a quick way to sift through new requests or requirements. Helping to teach the teams the difference between output and outcomes has been a great experience that WorkBoard has spurred.

Nanci Taylor

Hear the full interview: Nanci Taylor, Vice President, Digital Strategy at IBM, talks about aligning on strategic imperatives, competing to win, and better business reviews. She explores the Capacity-vs-Ambition Gap and how sharp focus on it drives smarter decisions and outcomes.

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