This has been a year of upheaval in so many ways. In the noise we can choose to focus on negatives, or we can look for opportunities to improve. One jarring topic has been a call to “defund the police” in the wake of policing issues and resulting protests. But what exactly does that mean? And how does it relate to business? I gleaned a couple of business points from the podcast.

The Wall Street Journal podcast “The Journal” investigated what happened when one city did eliminate, and rebuild, its police department. What we heard was a story not only about police departments, but about all organizations and businesses. Because in this case, reshaping a police force was built around the idea of focusing on desired outcomes, not outputs. Maybe we all lose that focus sometimes.

Camden, New Jersey, was once considered one of the most violent cities in America. The only interaction police had with residents was during arrests. And nothing was changing. Retired Police Chief J. Scott Thompson told the Journal it was impossible for his department to arrest its way to a solution. In 2012, he said, it was time for change. Every officer, including Thompson, was “fired.” The department was closed and reformed. Every officer who wanted to be part of the program was required to reapply for a job.

The chief made it clear: Buy in or be gone.

A New Focus

Thompson told his new team, “Seldom in life do you ever get the opportunity to hit the reset button, and you’re being offered one now … I don’t want to hear the words ‘we’ve always done it this way,’ because we’re going to presume from this day forward that we’ve done it wrong.”

Powerful stuff. Officers got out of their patrol cars and hit the streets on foot and bike. They held barbecues for the neighborhoods. They talked with people.

The murder rate declined. The crime rate fell. There was distrust at first. But eventually residents began to talk to the police, identify the bad guys, help deter crime.

Thompson said the department focused on the real desired outcomes of reducing crime and improving the quality of life. Arrest statistics, he said, were pointless if crime wasn’t decreasing.

Outcomes Over Output

That got us thinking. What are we – what are you – focusing on? The number of sales calls, or the number of sales? Client contacts, or client satisfaction? Widgets sold, or overall earnings? None of us are obligated to do things the way we’ve always done them. And yes, clients may notice a change. But if the focus is on better outcomes for all, they’ll embrace it. If you’re listening, they might even help you.

Ask yourself what you want to achieve, then examine where you spend your time and effort. As the Camden Police Department showed us, you can be busy and still be unproductive.