There is a simple but highly effective formula I learned while working in the outplacement business. This simple formula has served me well in thinking through problems and issues, formulating goals and objectives and determining appropriate measures and metrics for business activities. It’s referred to as P-A-R where the letters stand for Problem, Action, Result.

In outplacement, we used this formula to help executives better understand and articulate their accomplishments. To me, accomplishments are the results achieved part of the formula, the R in P-A-R. And, by result I mean some “variation” was caused. In it’s simplest term, variation means something went up (e.g. customer satisfaction, revenues, employee productivity, competitiveness) or something went down (e.g. costs, turnaround time, customer complaints).

Often, individuals would mistakenly identify an activity (e.g. developed and implemented a multi-sourcing strategy…) as an accomplishment rather than the result achieved by that activity. Typically, to back into the result, we would first ask, “What was the problem?” Implied in the resulting statement of the problem is usually the desired result. For example, if the problem is “customer satisfaction had reached an all time low” and we know this through our survey process, then the result we seek is an increase in customer satisfaction. If this had already occurred, we would construct an accomplishment statement by saying “Increased customer satisfaction 50% in 6 months by developing and implementing a…” or whatever the real numbers might be. Now, you can easily see how this can also work if you have only identified the problem and are charting a your course of action. The P-A-R formula can be used to establish a goal or objective (e.g. increase customer satisfaction by 50% over the next 6 months) which can be further defined to identify action steps to achieve it and accountabilities for the people involved.

With a problem clearly stated, we have the foundation for the result we’d like to achieve, some indication of what needs to be measured using which tool or method (e. g. customer satisfaction using the 5-point scale on our existing survey). Then, we are simply brainstorming the potential actions—strategies, services, programs, and tasks—to solve the problem.

On the job, this formula can help you as an employee to better describe your results as part of your performance review process and as a manager and planner it can help you simplify the objectives setting process for both performance management and unit business planning.

I’ve always thought that P-A-R had wide applicability for such a simple concept and it has helped keep my thinking clear when it needed to be.