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I know. I know. Those are silly questions to ask.
Of course everyone knows the difference between means and outcomes. Of course everyone knows the difference between the means to an end and the end.
Or do they?
As I was driving to an appointment the other day, I saw a sticker on the back of a construction truck that read, in big red letters: Safety is the goal.
So, let me throw out some definitions here.
According to Merriam-Webster, a goal is: the end toward which effort is directed; aim. An outcome is: something that follows as a result or consequence. Basically, the goal or the outcome is the desired end result.
Means, on the other hand, as defined by YourDictionary is: that by which something is done or obtained.
So, back to safety. Is safety really the goal? Or is safety a means to achieve the goal. You want your employees to be safe. You want to provide them with a safe environment in which to do their jobs. You want them to think about safety, to adhere to safety rules and guidelines, and to act safely.
But is that the goal? Is that really the desired outcome?
Actually, it's a means to the end, to the goal. I think the goals or the outcomes of making safety (or being safe) a priority, a core value, or a way of working are to not break a leg, to not lose a finger, to not die, or to go home to your family at the end of the day. Safety/doing your job safely is the means by which you will achieve the desired outcome, i.e., to not die.
It is important to know the difference between the outcome and the means to achieve the outcome. I know a bumper sticker that says "The goal is to see my family tonight" or "The goal is to not die on the job today" is not as sexy or pithy or catchy as "Safety is the goal," but they are certainly more accurate and paint a clearer picture for everyone about why safety is so important.
When you define and clearly communicate the true desired outcomes, you can then set in motion a variety of paths to achieve those outcomes. When people are clear on the outcomes (e.g., to see their families tonight), then they are more easily able to understand the why and the importance of the means (e.g., safety, being safe) and, in turn, are more than happy to get on board to do what's necessary to achieve the outcomes.
Every choice you make has an end result. -Zig Ziglar