Do You Want to be Judged on Intentions or Results?

It was early in my career, maybe 8 years in, and I was director of product marketing at a startup.  One day, my peer, the directof of marketing programs hit me with this in an ops review meeting:

You want to be judged on intentions, not results.

I recall being dumbfounded at the time.  Holy cow, I thought.  Is he right?  Am I standing up arguing about mitigating factors and how things might have been when all the other people in the room were thinking only about black-and-white results?

It was one of those rare phrases that really stuck with me because, among other reasons, he was so right.  I wasn’t debating whether things happened or not.  I wasn’t making excuses or being defensive.  But I was very much judging our performance in the theoretical, hermetically sealed context of what might have been.

Kind of like sales saying a deal slipped instead of did not close.   Or marketing saying we got all the MQLs but didn’t get the requisite pipeline.  Or alliances saying that we signed up the 4 new partners, but didn’t get the new opportunities that were supposed to come with them.

Which phrase of the following sentence matters more — the first part or the second?

We did what we were supposed to, but it didn’t have the desired effect.

We would have gotten the 30 MQLS from the event if it hadn’t snowed in Boston.  But who decided to tempt fate by doing a live event in Boston in February?  People who want to be judged on intentions think about the snowstorm; people who want to be judged on results think about the MQLs.

People who want to judged on intentions build in what they see as “reasons” (which others typically see as “excuses”) for results not being achieved.

I’m six months late hiring the PR manager, but that’s because it’s hard to find great PR people right now.  (And you don’t want me to hire a bad one, do you?)

No, I don’t want you to hire a bad one.  I want you to hire a great one and I wanted you to hire them 6 months ago.  Do you think every other PR manager search in the valley took 6 months more than plan?  I don’t.

Fine lines exist here, no doubt.  Sometimes reasons are reasons and sometimes they are actually excuses.  The question isn’t about any one case.  It’s about, deep down, are you judging yourself by intentions or results?

You’d be surprised how many otherwise very solid people get this one thing wrong — and end up career-limited as a result.

5 responses to “Do You Want to be Judged on Intentions or Results?

  1. The ends justify the means, always? What about the crook who enriches himself at other people’s expense to add to his wealth (thinking of someone here). Is that okay? How about the team member who bolsters his or her performance through underhanded behavior directed at other members of the team. Okay? These people are going to look like winners.

    I get what you are saying here. It needs to be construed within moral principles, though. .

    • Saying that people should be judged on results not intentions in no way implies that the ends justify the means. You said that, not me. I got your point, but please don’t misconstrue mine.

  2. This is a tough reality for many marketers who often will say that ‘marketing results’ are difficult to evaluate with ‘black-and-white’ precision (unless sales where revenue attainment is pretty clear). With such objections, I’ve used what I call the ‘paycheck question’ e.g: “what do you think is best: that your company pays you on the 15th or that they try really really hard to pay you on the 15th?!”. There is seldom much of a debate to the right answer to this question! However, it exposes potential disconnects between expectations that employees have of their company and the realistic expectations companies must have of them. Now, the truth is really in the middle. You want results but you also want attitude, a great company culture. You want people who will go through walls, but who also consider slipping on a goal to help a colleague or modify their approach if the current path to results is inconsistent with their value system.

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