“The challenge, simply stated, is this: there is not enough top talent to go around, so how do we get good, solid people to produce great results?”
The New Game Changers by Greg Long and Butler Newman uses a business fable format to illustrate how the implementation of outcomes thinking can transform employee performance as well as organizational practices like recruitment, job design, and training. Director Aimee Martin has returned to work at Calara Enterprises after being a stay-at-home mom for three years. She needs to boost her sales team’s performance to stave off the permanent dismantling of the division in favour of a slick digital marketing strategy. Luckily for Aimee she has some superstars on her sales team, and a brother who coaches for Navy, who helps her develop a winning game plan that ultimately saves the day.
Long and Butler are quick to acknowledge that while outcomes thinking is a simple and straightforward approach to enhancing performance, putting it into practice in the workplace can be challenging. In true Actionable style, they include a detailed appendix that summarizes the TOPS model, along with handy checklists to guide your thinking as you work through each phase of the model. Briefly, the acronym TOPS identifies the four steps in the framework:
- Identify Top performers
- Uncover the Outcomes they focus on
- Equip People to produce those outcomes, and
- Coach for Success.
The key to leveraging outcomes thinking lies in challenging yourself to go beyond superficial, easy answers so you uncover the absolutely vital outcomes for specific staff roles. Let’s explore this more thoroughly.
The Big Idea
Begin with the End in Mind
"Once we understand exactly what we need to do to win the game, we can design each role to contribute to how we win."
Ok, I admit I chose the second of Dr. Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People for the title of my golden egg. It perfectly captured the essence of what my big take-away was, so why reinvent the wheel?! Aimee initially thought revenue was the outcome she expected her sales team to produce. However, after speaking with her brother Shafe, she realized that strong, trusting relationships with customers was actually what generated sustainable revenue for the company (through repeat business) and thus was a more relevant metric for her sales team.
With a clear outcome to focus on, you can then outline what role each member of your team needs to play to ensure you achieve success. Again, you need to go beyond general descriptions to create clarity about the specific actions that must occur to create those desired results. We’ll explore this in more depth in Gem #1. When you don’t begin with the end result in mind, you can end up deploying valuable resources on the wrong activities. This sets people up for failure in spite of their best efforts. And that is a recipe for disaster.
What about you? Are you crystal clear about what it is you want your staff to accomplish? Or have you settled for something that seems like the right outcome (winning the game) without really describing what specifically you need to do to produce that outcome (maximize time of possession and create opportunities to score points)?
Do What the Pros Do
"If we understand what the best performers do, how they think about their work, we can teach those in the middle how to emulate that top performance. The key is focusing on the outcomes that these top performers aim for."
As Aimee reflected on what needed to happen to turn slumping sales around, she frequently found herself wishing she could ‘clone’ her top performers. If only the entire team could establish the deep (and profitable) relationships with customers that reps like Joe seemed to cultivate so easily, Calara would not be facing this current crisis.
Actually, the idea is not as far-fetched as it sounds. Tapping into the knowledge and expertise of your organization’s top performers will yield a wealth of information that can then be used to improve the performance of all staff in similar positions.
Aimee met with her top performers to identify how they approached different stages of the sales process and isolated the metrics they used to monitor their effectiveness. The authors also suggest observing top performers in action and reviewing key performance metrics can also be informative, particularly if you can compare the outputs of top producers with those of average and under-performers. Once you know what your star employees are focusing on to guide their decisions and actions you can develop a training and mentoring program to teach other staff how to adopt those practices.
Maximize Training by Focusing on What Matters
"Using the outcomes uncovered from top performers as the basis for a robust development system is both powerful and efficient – powerful because it focuses development on things that matter and efficient because it eliminates wasted effort on things that don’t matter."
Too often, companies rely on external training programs to boost the knowledge and expertise of their staff, only to find that performance gains are small and temporary. The authors posit that this is because external training is often general and not customized to address the specific challenges staff face when doing their jobs. Offering pre-packaged programs places the responsibility for knowledge translation and skills application onto individual staff members, who may or may not follow-through once they leave the classroom.
Designing a training program based on the specific outcomes associated with a discrete job role is a better way to achieve significant and lasting behaviour changes. This is because the course content will focus exclusively on the knowledge and skills needed to execute the actual job requirements within the context that the learner finds him/herself in on a daily basis. The most successful programs are those that combine different modalities for learning and incorporate an ongoing ‘on-the-job’ coaching component that can identify and respond to an employee’s specific performance gaps.
Aimee and her star performers took the time to figure out the relevant outcomes, key tasks and excellence criteria that produced exceptional sales results on a consistent basis. They piloted the process with a promising new hire and discovered an outcomes focus was effective in accelerating job performance. The TOPS model shifted the way they approached sales training and customer service. You could say it was ‘game-changing’.
Integrating outcomes thinking into your organization can be a game-changer for you too. It will take time, a high degree of focus and continuous practice. Like winning teams, high performance organizations:
- know what it takes to win each game (end result)
- develop a game plan to overcome obstacles (key outcomes and tasks)
- teach their personnel exactly what to do to excel in their specific roles (train, practice)
- monitor performance metrics, adjusting tactics as needed (coach)
Are you willing to do what it takes to be TOPS in your industry? How might outcomes thinking change the way you do business?