Process and outcome in communications

SimonCommunications, General

Over the past weeks I’ve been thinking about the relative importance of process against outcomes.

As regular readers will know I’m a passionate advocate of the importance of a focus on outcomes in communications. It’s where the value of communications is realised and makes a difference to the things that matter.

And I still believe that’s true and should be where we do our ultimate evaluation of our work – that makes sense to me and fits with the Barcelona Principles for the evaluation of public relations.

But my holiday reading over Christmas has challenged this for me.

I’ve been reading a few books about competitive cycling – particularly around the revolution in British Cycling’s track team and the subsequent creation of Team Sky. This revolution has been led primarily by Dave Brailsford – Performance Director at British Cycling.

One of the philosophies that he’s stuck to for most (but not all) of his time leading cycling teams has been to focus on the process of the sport – the training, preparation and race itself – not the outcome. His view has been that the outcomes – ideally winning – will naturally follow if the process is delivered as well as possible.

His focus on delivering marginal improvements to the process has helped optimise the performance of his cyclists – with the subsequent outcomes being measured in terms of medals or winning road races.

Interestingly the only time he seems to have departed from his “process not outcome” mantra was when launching Team Sky when he explicitly set out the outcome the team wanted – to have a British winner of the Tour de France last year.

When he did that, it turned out that the focus on the outcome took attention, whether consciously or subconsciously, away from the process. And that made achieving the outcome itself more difficult.

So what does this mean for public sector communications where we resolutely push the outcome message as being the measure of value contributed.

It doesn’t change the fundamental fact that it’s the outcomes that matter in the end – just like winning does matter in professional sport.

But what we mustn’t do is let our focus on the outcomes of campaigns to distract us away from the importance of the quality of process in delivering communications activities.

Just because we’re focussed on the outcomes, good communications teams will have clear processes in place for the development, execution and monitoring of campaigns. And just like Brailsford’s teams, it’s these processes that we have to pay attention to make sure they give us the best possible chance of delivering the outcomes we want.

Of course we need to use the best evidence we have in these processes to make sure we have the best possible campaign for the outcomes we want.

So in the end I managed to resolve this in my head – both process and outcome are important.

The better quality the process we have for delivering our communications, the more chance we have of delivering the outcomes we want. Phew!