Earlier in your life, you may have dreamed about creating a handheld device that could do just about anything or about building a spaceship to Mars. Like most of us, you probably didn’t act on those dreams. The reality is that most people have great ideas, but relatively few can bring them to life.
For example, while more than 60 percent of Americans see opportunities to start a business, only 15 percent actually plan to do so, according to Babson College’s most recent Global Entrepreneurship Monitor. Similar gaps exist through the years and across developed economies.
Most companies these days need people who get things done, particularly as they strive to find new ways to succeed through complexity, volatility, disruption, and a near-constant need to innovate. What separates the doers from the dreamers? In helping companies develop and hire results-getters, my colleagues at Russell Reynolds Associates and I use a model called Results Intelligence (RI).
RI is the ability to accomplish large, complex goals, regardless of what obstacles stand in the way. Recent business leaders who embody RI include Steve Jobs, who revolutionized mobile phones through an ecosystem of devices and apps, and Elon Musk, who is building a spaceship to Mars at SpaceX after revolutionizing financial services (PayPal), automobiles (Tesla), and energy (SolarCity). Turning back the pages of history, we can also see results intelligence in Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and leaders such as Margaret Thatcher and Mahatma Gandhi.
None of these people were the first or only to dream up their ideas, but they were the first to turn them into enduring realities. Their initial efforts may not have been perfect and their futures looked bleak at certain points—but despite headwinds, each has been able to alter the human experience in ways that others believed impossible.
Unlike classic intelligence (IQ), results intelligence is not about how much you know. And to avoid self-interested steamrolling, it must always be balanced by a healthy measure of emotional intelligence (EI), or the ability to consider and manage emotions in relating to other people, and values that represent a solid commitment to the social good.
“Most companies these days need people who get things done, particularly as they strive to find new ways to succeed through complexity, volatility, disruption, and a near-constant need to innovate.”
People with high RI get remarkable things done, and often make it look easy. In reality, though, they’re framing and managing projects in five specific ways. The good news is that by learning those habits, nearly anyone can improve their RI quotient:
Make it Clear and Reverse Engineer
Specificity is the heartbeat of results intelligence. Focus your efforts by sharply defining the end goal with vivid detail. Then work backwards: Set regular milestones, with clarity around deadlines, accountability, and review criteria—and stick to them.
To take it up a level, challenge yourself to chart a course that focuses only on the highest-value and most promising activities, rather than boiling the ocean. Avoid a “wait and see” approach, flexible milestones, or hazily defined roles and responsibilities. Don’t let work progress without regular review.
Aggressively Seek the Right Resources
Whether it’s people, money, or some other type of resource, results-getters know exactly what they need and have no problem being a squeaky wheel to get it. The best can precisely define their financial and talent needs at the start of a project, and make a compelling case for why they need more or better than what they’ve got. Don’t accept inherited resources without question; trying to shoestring it to the desired result.
Know the Rules, When to Bend Them
Corporate policies, regulations, and conventional work processes can stunt even the most promising vision. People with high RI educate themselves on the formal and informal rules so they can operate optimally within them—and understand how to bend them when needed.
To improve your ability to leverage rules, slow down when you’re tempted to turn a gray area into something black and white. Instead, look for opportunities to re-shape and re-interpret the gray area. Avoid looking exclusively to the past for guidance on how to proceed.
Too many cooks in the kitchen can slow momentum. People with high RI involve only those who are truly necessary; they resist including everyone on the org. chart.
Don’t get us wrong, inclusion is important, but some people overdo it. To maximize agility, start with the smallest possible team to accomplish your goal. Stand ready to address (and remove) people who act as roadblocks to progress, regardless of title or position. Internally, squelch your otherwise noble impulses to be all-inclusive or avoid offending anyone.
Accept No Excuses
To achieve breakthrough results, failure cannot be an option. When one route is closed, people with high RI find another. When the second route closes, they resourcefully find a third. They set exceptionally high standards for themselves and hold others to them as well.
Building high standards starts with regularly discussing performance expectations and providing real-time feedback to colleagues about how they’re meeting them. When they are not met, you analyze – never rationalize – root causes so the next attempt will be better.
Taking the Next Step
Disruption means needing to achieve results when the path forward is not remotely clear. Acting with results intelligence is a smart way to do it. You may not be the next Steve Jobs or Elon Musk, but you’re sure to have a significant impact in your organization.