Anyone who is familiar with the Star Wars movies is likely even more familiar with the little green Jedi master, Yoda. If you’re anything like me, just the mention of the individual who had a hand in training nearly every Jedi gives me a reason to blurt out, “Do or do not. There is no try.” In a previous post, I did offer a somewhat opposing view to this mantra by acknowledging that there is no do unless we try, so “try we must.” This time I’d like to take that thought in a slightly different direction.

If we equate our “do” to outcomes or results and our “try” as level of effort, I believe Yoda and I agree that trying (effort) is important in all cases and in nearly every case it is the doing (outcome) that is most important. Level of effort (or hard work) is commendable, but it is not the amount of sweat but the result that matters. Long hours dedicated to a goal is commendable (and in many cases necessary), but it is not the time we devote, but the value we deliver that matters.

At a recent swim meet, I noticed a young swimmer plowing through the water. His stroke was highly inefficient and the gap between him and the rest of the field made it clear to even the non-swimmers watching that his technique was highly ineffective. At the end of the heat, he was rightfully commended by the crowd for his effort and constructively critiqued by his coach for the outcome. His “try” was appropriately recognized, as was his “do.” No trophy, no ribbon, but a congratulatory high five that simultaneously acknowledged his progress and the long road ahead if he is to achieve better outcomes.

Coincidentally, the topic of performance appraisals has been prominent at work of late and I can’t help but think of that swimmer when I look at the talent across the team. Conversations with others make it evident that supervisors do not have a shared philosophy when it comes to documenting performance. To me, performance appraisals (including report cards at school) are important vehicles that present us with an opportunity to:

  • Provide constructively critical feedback to inform continual improvement efforts
  • Express gratitude (or hold accountable) for the level of effort (or lack thereof)
  • Ensure outcomes vice effort is what informs compensation, recognition, rankings, promotions, etc.
  • Assess future growth potential; especially if we don’t see any

Hard work and long hours are often necessary if we are to achieve our goals, create value, and/or realize our potential. But the level of effort and long hours alone are little more than wasted time and energy if we aren’t achieving (or at least getting closer to) success as defined by ourselves, our coaches, or our supervisors.

By providing honest feedback to others, we help them improve as individuals and we make the team stronger. We might also help them to realize they may never be a great “swimmer” and that their actions may deliver better outcomes for both themselves and their team by choosing a new path and joining another organization that allows them to play to their strengths.

  • Is your effort delivering the outcomes to which you aspire?
  • Are you helping your team and the individuals on it by coaching their effort and focusing on outcomes?
  • What relationship do you see between effort and outcomes in your daily life?