I am starting to work on writing some annual employee performance reviews and I was thinking about one of the first bits of advice my manager gave me when I joined Microsoft "Don't confuse activity with results".
As we reflect over the year, it is easy, and natural to think about all the activities we did... the specs we wrote, presentations we gave, partners we managed, etc. But what is more important is the results we archived, a well received feature, a community excited about our product, partners that are wildly successful, etc. Of course these results are a bit harder to pin directly to our actions, but it is worth a try as this keeps us focused on the change we are contributing to rather than just spending time and effort.
As I think about this challenge, I am reminded of a story my wife's grandfather (who recently celebrated his 93rd birthday) tells of how he learned to focus on results instead of activities in his youth on a small farm in the rural North Carolina… On a muggy summer day, he and his brother had plans to meet some friends to go skinny-dipping. Their father, on his way out the door for work that morning, asked his sons to pick up the flat white rocks that littered their field and stack them up. Thinking their day’s plans might still be salvaged through an ill-defined success metric, his son’s very respectfully asked him: “Is there anything else we should do when we finish that?”. But their father was one step ahead of them, he told them “Son, that is a full day’s work. If you finish that, spread the rocks out on the field and pick them up again.” While this foiled the skinny-dipping plan for the day, it helped to instill a strong work ethic that still runs deeply in his family today.