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Language of Wins

There are many approaches and tools individuals and teams can use to build momentum and morale. Specifically, one tool we use often at Secoya Strategies, and is leveraged as well within NeighborWorks America’s Achieving Excellence program, is the “Language of Wins.” The Language of Wins outlines four types of wins – insight, capability, process, and outcome – that allow individuals and teams to make sense of, understand, and recall the progress and momentum that have resulted from their efforts. Not only does this reflection give insight into what has been accomplished, but it also builds confidence that encourages individuals and teams to take further action, generating more wins still. 

Insight Wins

These are the wins when we learn something new. They are the wins that generate “aha” moments, answer questions, and allow us to glean key takeaways. They are the wins that occur after we have tested hypotheses and assumptions, piloted products and services, and ventured into questions we did not know the answer to or that challenged our cherished beliefs. On the other end we are able to, at a minimum, walk away with new bits of knowledge and data that serve our next line of decision-making, iteration, and action. These insights occur after nearly every action we take as professionals because we either confirm something we knew, become aware of something unseen, or understand something we did not know. Noting these insight wins can be extremely helpful as individuals and teams track their progress and effort. 

One example of an insight win is something that happens over and over again, as leaders and teams work to implement new programs that require the support of either internal colleagues or external partners. It’s easy for others to say they will help on an initiative before the work begins, but when the rubber hits the road, their action is what counts. We’ve worked with many leaders who expected a colleague or partner to show up in support of an effort, only to be left empty handed. Frustrating as it can be for the leader, it’s an insight win when this happens.

Capability Wins

These are the wins that make work easier from an operational or technical standpoint. These wins include hiring new staff; gaining new skills through training, experience, research; or a combination of them, or even implementing new systems and processes that increase capacity and yield greater efficiencies within an enterprise.  Capability wins, as the name suggests, are the results that make us more capable. The tasks and actions that were previously difficult to complete have now become more manageable, clear, efficient, and effective. These wins expand our bandwidth and simplify the work. The full capability gains may not happen on day one of the win – for example, when a new staff person or collaborator is hired – but at a minimum they set the stage and trajectory for the work to become more fluid and functional. 

A few years ago we worked with a community engagement effort that was focused on developing community solutions to public health issues. The effort incorporated more than 70 individuals and organizations and there were a number of committees participants could sit on. Those committees required facilitators, and while an external facilitator led the meetings originally, trainings and capacity building ensured that local residents could lead future meetings. Upon the completion of the training, the initiative had a team of facilitators that not only led their meetings, but trained future facilitators as well – a strong set of capability wins.  

Process Wins

These are the wins that serve as stepping stones to future wins. Often they lead individuals and teams toward outcome wins, but they can also lead to or generate additional process, capability, or insight wins. Process wins include approvals; decisions; future commitments of funding, resources, time, or commitment; proposals drafted or submitted; teams formed; plans outlined; programs launched; partnerships developed, and all the other various activities that are important for meaningful and tangible outcome wins to occur. Just as processes often outline a path toward a particular end, so too do process wins outline the trail blazed on the way to larger outcomes. 

Process wins can seem small, but they really do provide the building blocks for greater results. We recently worked with an entity that incorporated a board for the first time. The enterprise has an interim leadership council that helped guide the direction of the work, but after a collaborative strategic planning process, the group decided a new and more diverse board would be the best fit to fulfill their envisioned future. The team’s commitment to selecting a new board, and the open, diverse, and inclusive recruitment strategy the team employed, not only positioned new leaders to support the work, but also yielded a process win as the entity embraced and held true to new agreements and commitments. 

Outcome Wins

These are the wins we typically think of when we think of traditional results. They are often SMARTIE (specific, measurable, aggressive, relevant, time-bound, inclusive, and equitable) goals that were identified or at least discussed prior to a project, product, or service’s implementation. (Admittedly the push for and commitment to including “inclusive” and “equitable” has been stronger in recent years and may not be part of the more conventional thinking). Outcome wins bring to fruition the change and impact envisioned at the start of an initiative, and are easy to point to. 

Outcome wins typically take longer to achieve. They are often thought of as the “only” wins; yet, the disproportionate focus on these wins comes at the expense of the momentum- and morale-generating insight, capability, and process wins that are integral and foundational for the outcome wins to occur. Outcome wins can only occur when individuals and teams have already successfully generated the necessary insight, capability, and process wins.  

One final example here is with a community-based health initiative we worked with last year that sought to double the number and diversify the geographic representation of their membership base. After a number of insight, capability, and process wins, the network successfully recruited and onboarded new individuals to hit their target membership composition. 

Some results can straddle two win categories. For example, hiring a new staff member necessary for the launch of a new program could be both a capability win, for the personnel and expertise that have now entered the organization, as well as a process win, as now a key role necessary to launch the program has been filled. When embarking on a new project or goal, insight and process wins tend to happen earlier, while capability and outcome wins tend to occur later. This is not always the case, but it is worth keeping in mind. 

Individuals and teams accomplish many results. How could they not? They are working consistently to realize visions, hit targets, and fulfill goals. Yet, anyone who has worked on a project, product, or service, knows obstacles and challenges emerge, at times making the work tiring and/or demoralizing. Even when things are going well, it can be easy to fall into the trap of focusing on the shortfalls, and as a result, lose sight of, or even forget, all of the results and successes that have occurred. The focus on the negative or oversight of the positive, can hamper momentum and morale for both individuals and teams. The Language of Wins, can help leaders and teams proudly log the results of their efforts and the momentum they have established.

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