First, a quick description. Managing by outcomes is exactly what it sounds like, where one is able to clearly (and let me emphasize clearly) state the desired result, with a clear (and let me emphasize clear) understanding of from what to what by when (see last week's blog for more on this idea). It does not include the how (except for the understood values of the organization...and if they are not understood, then those values need to be a part of the stated outcome).
Second, the problem. I believe that the problem lies in several areas, including the difficulty of being able to clearly (and let me again emphasize clearly) state the from what to what by when. Many of those in leadership roles never needed someone to state the obvious for them; they knew instinctively what needed to be done and they got it done in a timely manner. And because they were successful in getting things done in the past, they often believe that if someone else would do the work the way they did the work, then someone else will get the current work accomplished. And therein lies the problem - rather than managing by outcomes, leaders will manage by inputs, often detailing the HOW rather than the WHAT.
So how might leaders do a better job of managing by outcomes? Here are a few thoughts:
- understand how to state a good outcome, and then practice saying those words out loud over and over. This may be harder than one imagines, as being extremely clear (and again, let me emphasize clear) is not something with which leaders always do a great job
- resist the need to describe the HOW, no matter how much you want to tell someone else how to do their job. It is easy to fall in love with the HOW, especially if one has been successful in their work and rewarded for it. This does not take away training and mentoring...each of those are incredibly important helping others do their work well (and of course, knowing when and how to train and coach is another whole aspect of good leadership)
- include a follow up plan that meets your need as a leader to know that the work is actually being done. Building accountability into a plan never hurt anyone, and it might just help to keep the leader out of the weeds
- rewarding the accomplishment of the outcome is an important piece for everyone, whether it be in the form of a monetary reward or recognition of a job well done. This not only signals a gratefulness for one's work; it also determines that the job has been completed and it is time to move on to the next item
- get real time feedback by asking whether everyone understands the outcome and if there are any questions. This will be the time that people start asking the HOW questions...again, resist the temptation to describe the how and simply restate the outcome, assuring them that you are there to help as needed throughout the process
As I type these words, they sound so easy to me, another one of my "no-duh" ideas of leadership. And yet I, and so many others, struggle with this on a regular basis. Saying one is going to manage by outcomes does not guarantee that one will manage by outcomes. This is a skill that needs to be practiced and assessed over and over again, and one that will reap multiple rewards for the leader and her organization. More will get done...more people will find their work meaningful...and the best performers in the organization will thrive in multiple ways.