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Leadership is delighted to publish an extract from Dr Alistair Mokoena’s book, ‘Servings of Self-Mastery: Bite-sized Pep Talks to Unlock Greatness’

There’s a philosophical debate about whether to reward effort or results. Effort simply means you have taken action. Results mean your action has yielded the desired outcome. Action only becomes consequential when a result flows from it. Action is different from results, the same way that a salary is different from an incentive. A salary is the money you receive for your effort, regardless of how poor your effort is. An incentive is a reward for a job well done such as a salary increase, a bonus, and shares. Effort is enough to get you into the game but not enough to keep you in the game or to win the game. Results help us differentiate between top-performers and average-performers. Effort is commendable; however, it needs to be accompanied by a desired result.

Consider this scenario: You ask someone if they have completed a task, to which they respond, ‘I sent out an email asking for it to be done, but it hasn’t been done yet.’ How would you evaluate their performance? A) Do you give this person a score of 0/10 for not achieving the desired outcome? B) Do you give them 5/10 for doing half the job? Or C) Do you give them 10/10 for sending an email despite not getting a result? Most people will probably give them 5/10 in recognition of the effort they put in, but not 10/10 because their email has not yielded results yet.

To illustrate further, consider the process of sales, which often follows a seven-step progression, namely: prospecting, preparation, approach, presentation, handling objections, closing, and follow-up. This process typically follows the shape of a funnel, with a wide top representing many prospects, narrowing down to a few successful conversions at the bottom. Upper-funnel activities are the initial steps, while closing and follow-up are lower-funnel activities. These seven steps are all important but they carry different values, depending on the objectives you choose to prioritise. At times, your objectives are restricted to upper-funnel activities, for example, your strategy in difficult economic times might be to create awareness and consideration amongst prospects and not necessarily to convert these prospects into customers. However, most of the time, sales objectives revolve around lower-funnel activities, as these activities generate sales and repeat business. While marketing might reward upper-funnel activity, what matters in sales is lowerfunnel activity. In other words, is your cash register ringing or not? If not, then you have not delivered. If we want to excel and be Number One in the game, we have to focus on results over effort.

Differentiating top achievers from average performers becomes essential in any organisation, mainly due to the finite budget for salary increases, share allocations, bonuses, and promotions. Not everyone can get one of these, so there has to be an objective and credible process for separating the wheat from the chaff. Managers need to be strict about non-delivery and not reward mediocre performance.

Trust, another critical factor, is a direct consequence of being true to your word. Following your promises through with action is important but trust only accrues when your actions yield the promised results. Trust is the reward we get for being honest and true to our promises. The corollary of this truism is that failure to honour your word is the quickest way to diminish trust. Trust is a gift not to be abused or taken for granted. It takes years to build and minutes to destroy.

Another way to destroy trust is by over-promising and under-delivering. It’s good to be known for execution, but great to be known for execution that delivers results. Your actions and the results thereof must match, or exceed, the promise you made. Meeting expectations satisfies the customer, but exceeding expectations delights the customer. As a citizen, I have been let down by failures of my government in delivering on some basic services despite great promises made in manifesto speeches at election time. As a consumer, I have been let down by brands that fail to deliver on the promises they make in their communication campaigns. The greater the expectation, the bigger the disappointment can be.

We all know that despite our best intentions to deliver on promises, life happens. Life sometimes gives us intervening events that prevent us from keeping our promises. To redeem ourselves, and salvage trust, we need to be honest and candid about these challenges and genuinely undertake to make up for the lack of delivery. You will often hear customers that have been let down by service providers say, ‘If only you had taken me into your confidence and explained your challenges and assured me that you would make up for this let down, I would have understood and given you the benefit of the doubt.’ Some service providers deny their customers this courtesy and act surprised when they decide to churn.

One of the toughest jobs in the world is being a sports coach. Fans hate losing, as do sports teams. It is inevitable that the coach gets blamed when a team loses. Even the players, themselves, blame the coach when things don’t go well in the team. When fans take to social media to vent their frustration after a team’s loss, this frustration is often aimed at the coach. This begs the question: How should a manager or team leader be judged when their team fails to produce results, despite putting in a good effort? How much blame should be apportioned to a manager or team leader for the team’s lack of results? A manager’s performance cannot be divorced from their teams, and for this reason the manager gets painted with the same non-delivery brush. Of course, one has to consider mitigating factors that explain the lack of delivery; however, the bottom line is there were no results.

Food, as an analogy, always works because we love food and we can all relate. Take a fruit tree that grows to two metres tall, with strong branches and lots of leaves. Let’s assume the tree was planted for its fruit-bearing capacity and not for oxygen, or shade, or firewood. What if, after considerable effort and passage of time, the tree bears no fruit? Has the tree planter delivered? The tree planter has delivered a two-metre-tall tree with strong branches and bright green leaves but no fruit. In my view this is action without results, and the primary objective was not met. It’s nice to sit under the shade of a peach tree, but a peach tree without peaches is not the result we were hoping for, and we should reward the tree planter modestly for their fruitless effort.

In conclusion, action alone is not enough; it must yield the desired results. This principle applies to all facets of life and work, reminding us that while effort is important, it is the achievement that truly matters.

Dr Alistair Mokoena is a seasoned marketing and advertising professional with a PhD in Business Administration, an MBA, and a Chartered Marketer qualification